Can India be Japan in technology

Japanese bullet train for India

With money and technology from Japan, India's first high-speed rail line is built. In view of the overwhelming power of China, Tokyo and Delhi are intensifying their cooperation in many areas.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe laid the foundation stone for India's first high-speed line in Ahmedabad on Wednesday. When commissioned in the planned five years, the travel time for the 530-kilometer route between the capital of Modi's home state Gujarat and the economic metropolis of Mumbai should be reduced from 8 to 3 hours. More than 80% of the $ 17 billion investment will be funded by a cheap Japanese loan.

Major investments in rail transport

The line is the first section of a planned high-speed network that will one day connect the four Indian megacities of Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai. A lighthouse project like this one is entirely to the taste of Prime Minister Modi, who loves the grand gesture and always strives to present India as the country of the future. Most of the Indian railways, which transport 23 million people every day and more than 1 billion tons of freight per year, are still largely in the state of the colonial past. The infrastructure is hopelessly out of date, and there is a chronic lack of funds for maintenance and new investments due to uneconomically low ticket prices. In the last month alone there were five accidents, some of them serious.

The accusation that the government is only concentrating its attention on the spectacular high-speed network is not entirely justified, however. A modernization program has been running for two years, for which almost CHF 130 billion will be made available by 2020. In many cities, subway projects are being promoted to offer alternatives to congested road traffic. The government's willingness to invest in rail transport is also of interest to Swiss companies. Stadler Rail AG is in the final round of a major contract for the construction of 5,000 rail cars. Business was also an issue during the recent visit by Federal President Doris Leuthard to Delhi, in whose delegation Stadler CEO Peter Spuhler also traveled.

India knows how to use the growing international interest in the emerging market to its own advantage. This can be seen again in the agreed credit terms for the high-speed line. No repayments have to be made for 15 years, the loan bears interest at 0.1%. The business is still interesting for Japan. Although the Shinkansen is an internationally well-known advertising medium, the country has so far only been able to export its high-speed technology to Taiwan, where it has so far only been operated with high losses. In Indonesia and Thailand, China snatched orders from the Japanese.

Counterweight to China

Even beyond the railways of China and its power and influence are an implicit theme of all Indo-Japanese summit. In both the second and in the third largest economy in Asia, there is concern about the growing regional political dominance of China. Today, after decades of roughly parity, the Middle Kingdom is generating five times more GDP than India. Taken together, Tokyo and Delhi's defense spending is less than half that of Beijing. That emerge since the appointment of Donald Trump behind the US support for a balance of power ever greater question mark, encouraged Japan and India in the need to cooperate.

It is therefore no coincidence that in the recent conflict between India and China over a high plateau in the Himalayas, which lasted more than two months and was accompanied by extremely martial statements on both sides, Japan was the only third country to officially back up Delhi. In the Indian Northeast, the key region for Delhi's Act East policy, which, in view of China's dominant role in Southeast Asia, aims to better connect the region to India, Japan is arguably the most important foreign investor.

To the regret of Indian strategy experts, it is not yet possible to speak of effective defense cooperation. However, it is recognized that under Abe, who wants to lead his country out of the absolute pacifism of the post-war period, the conditions are better than ever before - even if nothing specifically on the subject was agreed this time. In addition, bilateral relations benefit not only from strategic convictions in Delhi and Tokyo, but also from good chemistry between the two prime ministers. Abe's visit to Ahmedabad is also a tribute to Modi and his home state of Gujarat. That the Japanese Prime Minister and his wife during a program point even wore Indian clothes, of course, is only symbolic politics, as a sign to the public - and the head of government - the attempted to international appeal in all respects country but still remarkable. The Indo-Japanese axis is to be strengthened at all levels.