With eye on China, India and Japan bolster defence and business ties

Defence, business and nuclear energy issues are on the table as leaders meet in Tokyo

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 September, 2014, 11:53pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 September, 2014, 9:05am

Japan and India agreed yesterday to strengthen strategic ties as Asia's second and third biggest economies keep a wary eye on a rising China, and said they would accelerate talks on the possible sale of an amphibious aircraft to India's navy.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, also agreed to speed up talks on a so-far elusive deal on nuclear energy cooperation, welcoming what they called "significant progress" in the negotiations.

"The two prime ministers reaffirmed the importance of defence relations between Japan and India in their strategic partnership and decided to upgrade and strengthen them," a joint statement said after their meeting in Tokyo.

Modi, on his first major foreign visit since taking office in May, arrived on Saturday for a five-day trip aimed at capitalising on a personal affinity with Abe to bolster security and business ties.

"The 21st century belongs to Asia ... but how the 21st century will be depends on how strong and progressive India-Japan ties are," Modi told Japanese and Indian business executives.

"The 18th century situation of expansionism is now visible," Modi said in a veiled reference to China, with which India shares a long, disputed border. "Such expansionism would never benefit humanity in the 21st century."

Sino-Japanese ties have been chilled by a row over disputed isles, feuds over the wartime past, and mutual mistrust over defence policies as China seeks a bigger regional role and Abe loosens the constraints of Japan's post-war pacifism.

Abe is keen to expand Japan's network of security partnerships with countries such as India and Australia to cope with the challenges presented by China.

Modi, for his part, is embarking on an intense month of diplomacy in which he will receive President Xi Jinping before meeting US President Barack Obama in Washington as he seeks to carve out a stronger role for India as a global player.

"The two prime ministers ... affirmed their shared commitment to maritime security, freedom of navigation and overflight, civil aviation safety, unimpeded lawful commerce, and the peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law," the joint statement said.

Abe and Modi agreed to look into upgrading a "two-plus-two" format for security talks by bringing together their foreign and defence ministers, and directed officials to launch working-level talks on defence equipment and technology cooperation.

They also agreed to hold regular maritime drills, and that Japan would continue to take part in US-India drills.

The two leaders agreed to set a target of doubling Japan's direct investment in India within five years. Abe expressed Japan's intention to realise 3.5 trillion yen (HK$260 billion) in public and private investment and financing including foreign aid to India in five years for projects in infrastructure and clean energy.