New path to India-Japan ties : Modi congratulates Japan’s newly elected prime minister Yoshihide Suga

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Taking to Twitter, Modi Wrote, “Heartiest congratulations to Excellency Yoshihide Suga on the appointment as Prime Minister of Japan @kantei. I look forward to jointly taking our Special Strategic and Global Partnership to new heights. @sugawitter".

Suga, 71, who was elected prime minister on Wednesday, won an easy victory, taking 314 votes of 462 valid ballots cast in the lower house of the Japanese parliament, where his ruling Liberal Democratic Party holds a commanding majority with its coalition partner, AFP news agency said.

Suga was the former chief cabinet secretary in former prime minister Shinzo Abe’s administration, is expected to stick closely to policies championed by his predecessor, including close ties with India.

"According to the results, our house has decided to name Yoshihide Suga prime minister," lower house speaker Tadamori Oshima told parliament after the votes were counted.

Suga is expected to announce his cabinet later Wednesday, with local media reporting he will retain a number of ministers from Abe's government.

Suga has said he will prioritise keeping coronavirus infections under control and kickstarting Japan's economy besides continuing with Abe's key policy programmes.

Abe’s resignation on Wednesday brings the curtains down on a period which saw an unprecedented deepening of India-Japan ties. Abe was seen in India as a friend who invested in the India-Japan relationship. In remarks last week, Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar noted that Abe had changed Japan’s perception of India. During a visit to Tokyo in 2014, soon after his election as India’s prime minister, Modi and Abe elevated ties to “Special Strategic and Global Partnership." During the visit, Japan promised India $35 billion in foreign direct investment over five years.

The two countries also looked at introducing Japan’s high speed train in India with Tokyo offering to finance India’s first bullet train, estimated to cost $15 billion, at an interest rate of less than 1 %. Most notable was the crystallizing of the “Quad" group – that includes India, the US and Australia besides Japan. Viewed as anti-Beijing especially by China, the group has championed a free and open Indo-Pacific with unfettered access to the global commons like sea lanes and air space. Days after he announced his resignation at the end of last month, India and Japan signed a logistics support pact that allows for interoperability and use of each other’s military facilities. The pact also allows for closer cooperation between the two armed forces and facilitates reciprocal provision of supplies and services. In other words, it allows for closer and more effective coordination in the Indo-Pacific.

In a farewell call to Abe last week, Modi conveyed his gratitude to the outgoing prime minister for playing a key role in strengthening ties. A readout from the Indian foreign ministry said the two leaders expressed confidence that “the strong momentum attained in partnership between the two countries in the last few years will continue unabated in the future."

“Made a phone call to my dear friend @AbeShinzo to wish him good health and happiness. I deeply cherish our long association. His leadership and commitment have been vital in taking India-Japan partnership to new heights. I am sure this momentum will continue in the coming years," Modi said in a tweet later.

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