NEW DELHI: Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived in New Delhi on Saturday to push for closer commercial and strategic ties with India, as Tokyo seeks to offset Beijing’s growing regional might.
Since coming to power in 2012, Abe has trotted the globe, partly in his self-appointed role as salesman for Japan Inc., but also to seek counterweights to superpower China.
Abe told a business audience late Saturday that relations between India and Japan could be “win-win” and offer the South Asian nation “some of the best technology”.
Earlier Abe told The Times of India daily in an interview published Saturday he wants to “develop vigorously” economic and security cooperation with India.
Abe’s speech avoided any mention of Japan’s bitter territorial row with China over islands in the East China Sea that Asia’s two largest economies both claim.
He urged Beijing on Friday to come to the table for “vital” summit talks, after being quoted as comparing current Japan-China relations with ties between Germany and Britain before the outbreak of World War One.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Saturday hit back at Abe’s claim about tensions in East Asia, saying the analogy was misplaced.
“The forces for peace in the world, and they include China, are growing,” Wang told the World Economic Forum in Davos.
However, Abe told the Times of India the “security environment of the Asia-Pacific region is becoming ever more severe”.
Japan fears China is seeking to exert control over key shipping lanes around its vast coastline.
Japan and India, already carrying out joint maritime exercises, “play a vital role together for the security of sea lanes”, Abe told the Indian daily.
India, which has its own simmering Himalayan border row with China that erupted into a brief war in 1962, has said all “regional issues” including tensions with Beijing would be discussed.
India too has been working to boost relations with Japan and other Asian nations as it seeks to offset rival Beijing’s rise.
Commerce Minister Anand Sharma hailed Japan as a “very special friend of India” and expressed hopes for a deepening of the countries’ strategic partnership.
Abe, accompanied by a Japanese business delegation, was making his second official trip to India and was due to attend an annual bilateral summit.
His visit follows on the heels of the first trip to India early last month by Japan’s emperor and empress, billed by New Delhi as a “landmark” goodwill symbol.
Abe will be “chief guest” at India’s Republic Day parade Sunday that showcases the nation’s military might and cultural richness.
India and Japan will also work toward “negotiating an agreement on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy”, said Gautam Bambawale, India’s foreign affairs official in charge of East Asia relations.
The talks launched in 2010 slowed after the Fukushima nuclear disaster a year later but gained momentum after the prime ministers of the two countries called for a swift conclusion.
As part of a packed agenda, Japan hopes also to push the sale of its amphibious search and rescue ShinMaywa US-2 planes.
The planes would be unarmed, so as not to break Tokyo’s self-imposed prohibition on military exports.
“It will take a bit of time I am sure because defence equipment is always something difficult to transfer,” said Bambawale.
But with Abe saying he wants to review Tokyo’s ban on weapons exports, such a sale might open the door to Japan for sale of military equipment to India, a huge arms importer, analysts say.
New Delhi, which is seeking $1 trillion in investment over five years to upgrade infrastructure and bolster stuttering economic growth, is also looking for Japanese capital, technology and “modern management practices”, said Bambawale.
Tokyo is already India’s fourth-largest investor, involved in building the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, a $90-billion project linking India’s capital with financial hub Mumbai.
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