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PM in Japan: Emphasis is on economic cooperation
Prem Panicker in Tokyo
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December 13, 2006 19:44 IST

"Seminal," is how National Security Advisor MK Narayanan describes Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's [Images] three-day state visit to Japan [Images] that was flagged off when Air India 001 touched down at the Hareda International Airport, Tokyo, at 8.55 pm local time.

Narayanan spoke of how he, along with the PM's Principal Secretary TKA Nair, had visited Japan earlier this year.

"The impression both of us got," Narayanan said, "was that the Japanese felt they had seriously underestimated India's economic resurgence, and are now anxious to make up for lost time."

Breaking protocol, and signaling that the hosts consider this visit of considerable importance, no less than Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso was on hand to receive Prime Minister Singh and his entourage.

'Seminal', 'path-breaking', 'crucial' are words the media contingent accompanying the Prime Minister heard in plenty, during the seven-hour flight from Palam.

"Today," Dr Singh said in the prosaic language of official statements, "our bilateral relations are poised to enter a new and dynamic phase, driven by a shared desire to enhance the bilateral relationship.

"I will have the opportunity to discuss with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe [Images] ways to reinforce the strategic focus in our global partnership, to move to a more comprehensive economic engagement and to develop mutually beneficial cooperation over the entire range of the relationship, including security and terrorism, energy, transport, science and technology and culture."

Earlier, during a media interaction on board the flight, Narayanan said, "There is much that is cooking," indicating that the Joint Statement, that the two leaders will sign on October 15 following their Summit, could be hugely substantive.

The Prime Minister's Media Advisor Dr Sanjaya Baru believes this visit could be as important as the July 2005 visit to Washington DC that resulted in the Joint Statement that first unveiled the proposal for Indo-US nuclear cooperation.

"There are three reasons why we think so," Baru said. "Firstly, the climate in Japan is very favorable to enhanced times with India. Former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi [Images], and the incumbent Abe, are in that sense to Japan what George W Bush [Images] was to the United States, in terms of changing the perception of Japan towards India.

"Secondly, Japan is coming out of a recession and looking to aggressively invest; its position today mirrors what it did with China in the 1990s. And clearly, India is being seen as an increasingly attractive investment destination.

"And finally, a new generation of Indian businessmen have emerged, who are more than capable of taking advantage of the changed climate in Japan. You will remember that Japan was one of the first nations to invest in India -- but burnt its fingers pretty badly, especially in the automobile sector. On that occasion, it was bad judgment that led Japan to team with dated players in the Indian market. Now, however, the industrial climate is better, and the newer players in Indian industry are clued in to the demands of such bilateral partnerships."

Neither the prime minister, who chose not to brief the media on the way to Tokyo, nor his delegation, are going into much detail yet.

Narayanan and Nair, however, did spell out broadly the areas in which they expect the summit talks to yield good results.

The national security advisor said that from a security point of view, the purpose of the visit was to enhance and upgrade the existing strategic partnership.

"Upgrading includes greater interaction in policy matters, as also defense and security cooperation," Narayanan said.

Asked whether the security side of Indo-Japanese discussions was predicated at least in part on China, Narayanan said, "We are not looking to be part of any military alliance. Outside of that, however, cooperation, especially in the areas of counter-terrorism and in shared security concerns, is a priority."

This part of the discussions, Narayanan said, would essentially further the 'enormous progress' made during the visit earlier this year of then defense minister Pranab Mukherjee.

"That was a key visit; there have been a lot of visits back and forth over the past year or so, leading to a comprehensive understanding of each other's needs and how to jointly meet them," Narayanan said.

The Indo-US nuclear cooperation agreement will figure prominently in the talks, it is understood.

Asked whether there was any apprehension, on the Indian side, that Japan with its firm non-proliferation commitment could oppose the deal in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, Narayanan said he thought not.

"Japan clearly understands our needs, especially in the power sector. We are confident that Japan will not be unwilling to support our case at the NSG. This," Narayanan said, "is obviously a key item on the agenda when the two prime ministers meet on December 15."

Both Narayanan and Nair were categorical that the above issues, though crucial in themselves, were in a sense sideshows to the marquee item on the agenda: economic cooperation.

"The business side of the dialogue centers on enhancing the level of Japanese investment in India, and stepping up the economic engagement between the two nations," Nair said, with Narayanan chipping in at that stage to point out that economic engagement is in fact a strategic imperative in today's world.

Nair said the past few months had witnessed intense discussions between trade leaders of the two nations, with a view to facilitating increased flow of Japanese investment. The stumbling block, he said, was infrastructure.

"That is clearly a concern for the Japanese," Nair said. "We hope during these talks to involve the Japanese in infrastructure development."

The principal secretary gave the example of the notional Mumbai-Delhi Freight Corridor project.

"Japan has suggested that we also develop an industrial corridor along that route," Nair said. "This is one of the major items that are up for discussion."

Baru elaborated on the project on the sidelines of the media interaction.

"Originally, during the time of prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the Japanese had come up with a proposal for a Bullet Train linking Baroda and Ahmedabad," Baru said.

India had deemed the project too capital intensive, given that its projected cost was around Rs 30,000 crore.

"Instead, we came up with the concept of the freight corridor," Baru said. "Delhi is industrialising rapidly, but the cost of getting the product to the nearest port is increasing exponentially -- hence, a freight corridor linking Delhi with Mumbai made eminent sense. Besides, such a corridor would spread industrialisation into contiguous areas, like say UP and Punjab."

Nair indicated the project report on the planned freight corridor will be complete within months, at which time the modalities will be put in place.

It is not, Nair pointed out, a relationship of all take and no give as far as India was concerned.

"Indian involvement in the info-tech sector in Japan is increasing, and Japan has expressed interest in escalating this further, as part of the bilateral cooperation."

While Dr Singh was in mid-air, Federal Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath, part of the advance party, was in negotiations with his counterpart, Japan's Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Akira Amari.

An official statement, that was handed over to the media contingent on arrival in Japan, said a, 'Major understanding was reached with respect to developing an industrial corridor along the Delhi-Mumbai multi-modal freight corridor.

'The industrial corridor will have several supporting infrastructure projects such as power facilities, rail connectivity to ports en-route, and also development of ports on the west coast of India.

'Along this corridor, several industrial estates and clusters with high quality infrastructure are proposed to be developed to attract more investments, including from Japan.'

The two sides have formed a joint task force to develop the project, in all its components, further.

Dr Singh and his entourage, meanwhile, retired to the Four Seasons Hotel, where he has no official engagements this evening.

Official engagements begin December 14, with Japan's foreign minister and minister for economy, trade and culture calling on the prime minister at his hotel room.

Dr Singh will then drive to Kantei, the official residence of Prime Minister Abe, for an official reception.

Later in the day, Dr Singh will drive to the Imperial Palace for an audience with His Majesty Akihito, Emperor of Japan.

At 4 pm local time, he will address the joint session of the Diet, the Japanese Parliament -- a first for an Indian head of state.

Day one of the PM's visit concludes with the inauguration of the Festival of India in Japan.

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