How Doklam dents China’s bullet train chase against Japan in India
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to India on September 14 will reflect the fast-changing equations in the Asia-Pacific after Doklam.
Abe will be in the country for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail Project, also called the bullet train project. After the 73-day standoff at the Sikkim border, India is veering away from China and towards Japan in several fields. This shift can be noticed in the bullet train projects as Japan can upstage China in winning other projects in India, which China is also eyeing.
China and Japan have been competing to bag high-speed rail contracts in the region. China beat Japan last year to bag a project in Indonesia. Both are locked in a contest for the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur high-speed rail. Thailand has signed two contracts with Chinese state enterprises for a high-speed rail project.
China and Japan will be battling for a Thailand-Malaysia high-speed railway link too.
Japanese trains are considered safer but costlier while China is considered to have better expertise in building in challenging conditions.
According to a Bloomberg report, Japan’s sales pitch revolves around quality: its network boasts a record of zero fatal accidents in more than half-century of history. Japanese trains also require low lower repair expenses which offset initial higher costs.
While Japan has bagged the first bullet train project for Mumbai-Ahmedabad route, China is eyeing other proposed routes. It is carrying out feasibility studies for Chennai-New Delhi and New Delhi-Mumbai routes.
Doklam conflict may be over but it has changed India-China ties. India will remain wary of China for a long time. That’s why Japan can beat China in India for bullet train projects. While earlier India would have chosen between China and Japan after considering all the aspects such as price, efficiency and maintenance costs carefully, now it can lean towards Japan.
Since India and Japan are coming closer in maritime trade and military cooperation, India will prefer Japan to China in other deals too. So, Doklam may cost China a few mega train projects in India.
Indian projects will help Japan stay afloat in the train diplomacy as China is beating it in several other countries. An India-Japan axis is emerging in the Asia-Pacific. Both the countries have plans to counter China’s ambitious One Belt One Road project and are also willing to cooperate on investing in Africa where China has major interests. If India-Japan axis grows stronger, Chinese companies might have to face the heat in other countries in the region where China is easily bagging infrastructure deals now.
Abe’s visit to India right after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s China visit is telling in itself.