India seeks support for N-deal during Japan PM visit

Updated on Aug 19, 2007 07:34 PM IST

India will seek Japan's approval for a civilian nuclear pact with the United States and greater investment during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit this week, officials say.

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AFP | ByElizabeth Roche, New Delhi

India will seek Japan's approval for a civilian nuclear pact with the United States and greater investment during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit this week, officials say.

The second high-level contact in less than a year between the Asian countries will also see Abe press India for its support for a partnership between Australia, India, Japan and the United States, analysts said.

Indian officials were upbeat about Abe's three-day visit beginning on Tuesday with a senior government official describing him as one of the "most India-friendly" Japanese prime ministers in recent memory.

The conservative leader has always had a special place in his heart for India, repeatedly saying the fellow Asian democracy is a natural ally of Japan, whose ties with closer neighbours are fraught with historical baggage.

Key among the issues for New Delhi during talks with Abe will be support for the India-US nuclear deal which seeks to bring India into the loop of global nuclear commerce after a gap of 30 years.

Backing from Japan is significant as it is the only nation to have been attacked with nuclear weapons and is also a major civilian atomic power.

Japan's approval is also necessary because it is a member of the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) of nations that controls the sale of nuclear fuel, technology and reactors.

It is unlikely that "India would get a definite 'yes or no' to the deal" during Abe's visit but "I think Japan will accept the deal," security analyst Uday Bhaskar said.

Last week, Japanese Ambassador Yasukuni Enoki told the Press Trust of India that Japan would wait and watch as the pact "is still under careful scrutiny."

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whom Abe will meet in New Delhi, has political trouble of his own trying to persuade his Communist allies to support the pact. But domestic critics say India is sacrificing too much to move closer to the United States.

For its part, Abe will seek India's views on his proposed "axis of democracy" involving Japan, the United States, Australia and India, said Mohini Kaul, a professor at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University.

"The quadrilateral initiative will be an important issue on the agenda. Japan has certain strategic compulsions -- its worries vis-a-vis North Korea, a rising China and Japan's own constraints due to its pacifist constitution.

"So it is looking for other strategic allies and economic partners besides traditional ally the United States," she said.

While Tokyo's ties with some of its neighbours are still strained by memories of Imperial Japan's invasions in the 1930s and 1940s, "India carries no baggage from the past," Kaul noted.

"India is happy to forge stronger ties with Japan" that fit well with Japan's new foreign policy imperatives, she said.

According to Bhaskar, the economic content of the India-Japan ties will also be a key part of the agenda as two-way trade -- at about six billion dollars in 2005 -- was "far below that with the United States, European Union and China."

With Tokyo predicting India will overtake Japan by 2025 to rank as the third-largest economy after the US and China in terms of purchasing power parity, "it's important for both to increase economic cooperation," he said.

Japan has already pledged about 30 billion dollars to develop India's infrastructure -- that includes a high-speed rail network and the development of sea ports on the west coast.

Besides New Delhi, Abe will also visit the eastern city of Kolkata to meet relatives of Indian nationalist Subhash Chandra Bose who sided with Imperial Japan. Bose is lionised by Japanese nationalists.

Abe will also meet the son of the late Radhabinod Pal, the only judge who dissented at the Allied tribunal which condemned to death wartime Japanese leaders before concluding his India visit.

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