08/21/2007, 00.00
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Japan and India seeking new co-operation

PM Abe begins state visit to India. The two countries want to increase co-operation in various fields, including nuclear and defence, partly to counter China.

New Delhi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived in New Delhi today on a three-day trip. In his first official visit to India he will meet his Indian counterpart, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and will address a joint session of parliament and travel to Kolkata. A number of trade agreements are set to be signed, especially in the area of trade but also on civilian nuclear and defence. The meeting is taking place at a time when both leaders face strong internal opposition.

More than one hundred business representatives are accompanying Abe to India, including leading companies like Toyota, Mitsubishi, Canon and Hitachi. Two-way trade between India and Japan stands at US$ 6.6 billion, much lower than trade between India and the United States or China, and definitely in the dwarf category compared to China-Japan trade (US$ 211 billion in 2006). However, India represents a potentially huge export market for Japanese goods and technology and wants to attract foreign investments.

At present, Japan is investing in two Indian infrastructure projects worth billions of dollars, including a US$ 90 billion industrial corridor from the capital New Delhi to Mumbai, India’s financial hub, and an Arabian Sea port.

Even more important for the two countries might a strategic relationship to increase their respective role on the world scene and counter China’s expansionism, perhaps in alliance with Australia and the United States.

Tokyo was very critical of India’s nuclear tests in 1998 which had plunged relations in a deep freeze, including their economic ties, but now the two are discussing cooperating in the civilian nuclear field (an area in which Japan is a leading player in terms of technology and power plants) and defence. India wants to improve its military capabilities, especially its naval forces, and Abe has not concealed his intention of rearming Japan.

India’s Foreign Minister Shiv Shankar Menon said that India’s relations with Japan should not be seen as anti-Chinese, but as a normal relationship between to great countries.

Before travelling to India Mr Abe visited Indonesia were he signed a bilateral trade pact in Jakarta yesterday that will eliminate more than 90 per cent of tariffs between the two nations. Their bilateral trade last year amounted to US$ 27.2 billion.

Abe’s trip comes though at a difficult time for both leaders. Abe could do with a foreign policy success to shore the fortunes of his government, battered by many scandals at home and a recent heavy election defeat in July.

For his part, Mr Singh is being challenged over the nuclear deal signed with the United States, which his leftwing allies reject but which he considers “essential” for the country’s energy and political development. (PB)

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