Rounding off his three-day India visit with a day-long visit to Kolkata on Thursday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe inaugurated an India-Japan cultural centre, discussed the West Bengal government's request for funds for a metro project and paid tribute to freedom fighters like Subhas Chandra Bose and Rashbehari Bose.
Arriving in Kolkata after successful delegation meetings in Delhi where Abe called for early conclusion of a bilateral economic pact with India and tripling of trade to $20 billion by 2010, the Japanese premier left for Malaysia on the last leg of his three-nation tour.
Abe, accompanied by a 200-strong business delegation that included corporate executives from companies like Toyota Motors Corp, Canon, Honda, Nippon, Mitsui and Hitachi, discussed with West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya a request for Japanese funds to build the Rs 43.10 billion East-West Metro project, which is in the final stages of clearance.
Bhattacharya also sought Abe's help in getting Japanese companies to participate in a chemical hub planned in Haldia in the state. One of the companies, Mitsubishi Chemical Corp PTA, has invested over Rs 20 billion in Haldia near Kolkata.
"Bengal is the gateway to Indo-Japan relationship. The relationship between India and Japan is at the deepest level of the soul and this is reflected in the context of people like Rabindranath Tagore, Subhas Chandra Bose, Swami Vivekananda and the Japanese artists and intellectuals," Abe said in Kolkata after inaugurating the Rabindra-Okakura Bhavan, an India-Japanese cultural centre, in Salt Lake on the eastern fringes of the city.
"The momentum of Indo-Japan friendship has never been so strong as now. Yesterday [Wednesday] I met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi and discussed various issues and agreed on a roadmap. I am here to reaffirm the relationship between Japan and Bengal which is pivotal in the relationship between Japan and India."
Abe also met Prasanta Pal, 81-year-old son of Radhabinod Pal - the lone Indian judge who gave a dissenting judgement at the Tokyo Tribunals after World War II, proclaiming some of the Japanese not guilty of war crimes.
India and Japan have decided to push their bilateral collaboration in every area of energy security, especially on clean technologies, and work together in ensuring stable and affordable fuel supplies.
While mooting a mechanism to protect the rupee and the yen, Abe said he was keen to ensure that India and Japan conclude a comprehensive economic partnership agreement soon to give a further push to trade and investment ties that have been growing dramatically in recent years.
In Delhi, Abe addressed Indian MPs in the Central Hall of parliament, the third Japanese leader to address Indian parliament after prime ministers Yasuhiro Nakasone in 1984 and Toshiki Kaifu in 1990, where he declared that "a strong India is in the best interest of Japan and a strong Japan is in the best interest of India".
Abe said Japan was keen that India joined the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, especially in view of being among the largest polluters in the developing world.
Japan, a key member of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), will extend its full support when negotiations begin at the forum on the resumption of nuclear supplies to India.