This paper analyses Japan’s motivation for supporting the high-speed rail (HSR or bullet train) project in India, its largest ever single-country Official Development Assistance (ODA) yen loan project. The paper explores the strategic underlay for Tokyo’s new thinking about ODA projects, centered on ‘quality’ infrastructure, and argues that by nature, scale, and location, the HSR project is an outstanding example of Japan’s contemporary strategic aid. Concerned with ‘comprehensive national security,’ this aid is mindful of Japan’s economic interests as well as its national security and defence. India’s rising economic potential as a huge future market has great appeal for Japan, but foremost it is India’s current strategic importance in the context of power shifts at Asian regional and global levels that steers Japan’s rising interest. The HSR project’s multiple strategic dimensions are also shaped powerfully by the moves of China, Japan’s key economic and strategic competitor. Since these circumstances heighten the strategic stakes for guiding the region’s infrastructure development, Japan’s HSR ODA project for ‘quality infrastructure’ in India provides new insights into not only the country’s current relationship with India, but also Tokyo’s broader thinking about strategic aid, especially through the ‘quality’ lens in its contemporary aid narrative.
Keywords: Japan, ODA, Japan–India Relations, Quality Infrastructure, Bullet Train, Aid Politics, Strategic Aid.