x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Modi eyes trade, defence and nuclear deals on Japan visit

Indian prime minister is expected to sign pact with Japan on security cooperation as both countries grapple with China's growing assertivenes.

The Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe welcomes his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, at the state guest house in Kyoto on August 30, 2014. Toru Yamanaka / AFP
The Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe welcomes his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, at the state guest house in Kyoto on August 30, 2014. Toru Yamanaka / AFP

TOKYO // The Indian prime minister Narendra Modi flew into Japan on Saturday on a five-day official visit as their governments seek to boost security ties and counter an increasingly assertive China.

Mr Modi arrived at Kansai International Airport near Osaka, western Japan, by special plane for a night in the nearby ancient city of Kyoto where he was to have an unofficial dinner with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The Indian leader will visit historic sites and an academic institution in Kyoto on Sunday before moving to Tokyo for meetings on Monday with Japanese government and business leaders, including a summit with Mr Abe.

The two leaders, both right-wing nationalists elected on a pledge to revive their countries’ economies, are seen as strong leaders who have championed deregulation to kickstart their countries’ flagging economies.

The Indian foreign ministry said Mr Modi’s focus would be on boosting Indian exports – he is reportedly travelling with a large business delegation – and seeking Japanese support in infrastructural developments.

Before leaving India, the 63-year-old premier said he was confident that his five-day visit would “write a new chapter” in bilateral relations with Japan in areas including defence, nuclear energy and infrastructure.

“We will explore how Japan can associate itself productively with my vision of inclusive development in India, including the transformation of India’s manufacturing, infrastructure, energy and social sectors,” he said in a statement.

He also said the two nations could “upgrade” their relations in the fields of defence and security. “I see in the recent changes in Japan’s defence export policies and regulations a possibility to engage in a new era of cooperation in high-end defence technology and equipment,” he said.

In the summit meeting, the two premiers are likely to agree on launching a “two-plus-two” security consultative framework involving their foreign and defence ministers, according to Kyodo.

Japan already has such arrangements with the United States, Australia, Russia and France.

Mr Abe and Mr Modi are also expected to discuss the possible Indian purchase of Japanese-made US-2 amphibian planes. Japan lifted its self-imposed ban on military exports earlier this year, clearing the way for such a deal.

During Mr Modi’s trip, his first bilateral visit outside South Asia since taking office in May, the two countries will seek to conclude talks for a civilian nuclear pact that would allow Tokyo to export nuclear-related technology to New Delhi, Kyodo said.

On the economic front, Mr Abe is expected to pitch Japan’s high-speed bullet train technology. Japan is famous for its “Shinkansen” bullet train system, but rival China has had more success exporting its technology at lower prices.

Mr Abe and Mr Modi are also expected to agree to jointly produce rare earths that could be exported to Japan, a move that would further reduce Japan’s reliance on China for supply of such minerals.

Rare earths are vital to manufacture high-tech products such as hybrid cars and mobile phones.

Trade between India and Japan has steadily increased over the last decade, and the two countries signed a free trade pact in 2011. Japan is India’s fourth-largest investor, with Japanese firms involved in infrastructure projects including the Delhi Metro, while Japanese automakers have long been churning out cars in India.

Mr Modi was initially scheduled to travel to Tokyo in early July, but altered his plans to be in India for his new government’s first budget session since its landslide election victory in May.

* Agence France-Presse