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Publication Date : 25-01-2014
PM Abe's Delhi visit marks warmer ties as Chinese assertiveness grows
In another step towards forging closer ties with India - and countering a rising China, Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe sets off today on a visit to New Delhi.
Both Japan and India, Asia's second- and third-largest economies respectively, are involved in territorial spats with China.
Abe is due to hold talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, call on President Pranab Mukherjee as well as attend a business meeting.
On Sunday, he will be the chief guest at India's 65th Republic Day parade and will get a ringside view of Indian military prowess and cultural diversity. The invitation, normally reserved for close allies, underlines the two countries' deepening ties.
Abe's visit comes amid growing tensions in East Asia which were exacerbated by Abe's homage to Japan's war dead, including Class A war criminals, at the controversial Yasukuni war shrine nearly a month ago.
The three-day visit is also the first by a Japanese leader since 2011, when then premier Yoshihiko Noda agreed with his Indian counterpart to boost security ties in the face of China's growing assertiveness.
"PM Abe's visit to India will reinforce Japan's strategic diplomacy in South and Southeast Asia to balance China's extensive influence in Asia and strengthen Japan's presence in the emerging economies of the Indo-Pacific region," said Assistant Professor Rupakjyoti Borah at India's Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, in an article he contributed to RSIS (S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies) Commentaries.
Abe's trip caps a series of high-level visits between the two countries, including a rare seven- day state visit by Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko to India late last year and a successful visit by Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera earlier this month.
"We see vast potential for growth given the complementarity of the two economies," said Indian ministry of external affairs spokesman Syed Akbaruddin.
In the wake of China's declaration of an air defence zone that overlaps disputed islands, Japan and India have discussed the upgrading of defence ties, including expansion of air force ties. Both countries already conduct regular joint naval exercises.
The two sides are also keen to expand economic relations.
In New Delhi, Abe is expected to announce the provision of 210 billion yen (US$2 billion) in soft loans to India for the expansion of New Delhi's subway system and for energy-saving measures for small factories.
Japan plans to issue multiple-entry visas to Indian nationals to boost tourism and business between the two countries.
But Japan faces stiff competition from other countries also eager to have a slice of India's infrastructural projects.
Although Japanese firms are providing the carriages and electronic ticket gates for Delhi's subway, a South Korean company has clinched an order for carriages for the next phase of expansion.
South Korea is also competing with Japan to sell nuclear power stations to India. South Korean leader Park Geun Hye was in India earlier this month to seek more access to Indian markets.
Even in the sale of its US-2 amphibious aircraft to India, Japan faces competition from Russia and Canada, which are pushing their own cheaper versions.