New Delhi: Japan’s ambassador to India Kenji Hiramatsu on Monday said his country was willing to help India develop infrastructure in its north-east—seen as sensitive as parts of the region are claimed by China.
Seemingly buoyed by the “good” meeting between US President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last week, Hiramatsu also called for cooperation between India, Japan, the US and Australia.
The comments came at a conference on India-Japan convergences in the Indo-Pacific region, in New Delhi.
Speaking at the same event, India’s minister of state for home affairs Kiren Rijiju said India must look at a role beyond the Indian Ocean while Japan should extend its profile beyond the Pacific Ocean.
Stressing that neither role was expansionist, militaristic or aimed at a third country, Rijiju said India and Japan joining hands would mean the two working together as a stabilizing force.
“Without integrating the role of Japan and India it is difficult really to ensure stability, not only in Asia but in the world,” Rijiju said.
Taken together, the statements by Hiramatsu and Rijiju could be taken as irritants by China, which recently upset the Indian government by opposing New Delhi’s bid to join the elite Nuclear Suppliers Group of countries controlling global nuclear commerce and refusing to designate Pakistan-based militant Masood Azhar as an international terrorist under UN norms.
Rijiju’s home state of Arunachal Pradesh is claimed by China, which calls it South Tibet. Beijing claims 90,000 sq. km of Arunachal Pradesh and occupies a region of about 38,000 sq. km in Jammu and Kashmir in the northwest.
By contrast, India-Japan ties have seen unprecedented warmth since 2000 and especially after the election of Abe as Japanese prime minister in December 2012. During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first visit to Japan in August-September 2014, he and Abe elevated ties to a Special Strategic and Global Partnership with Japan pledging approximately $33 billion in investment between 2014-19 to boost India’s manufacturing and infrastructure sectors.
According to Hiramatsu, the relationship between the two countries has entered a “new era” with cooperation spanning security, defence and technology.
“We are very happy to support Indian government projects in the north-east region—this is a very important region of India,” strategically so as it links mainland India with Southeast Asia through Myanmar and Bangladesh, he said.
With the US pledging its commitment to Asia—through the visit of the new US defence secretary James Mattis to South Korea and Japan as well as Trump repeating the assurances to Abe at a meeting of the two on Friday, Hiramatsu said Japan, India and the US could forge closer cooperation to counter challenges and threats.
Not only could this cooperation be trilateral it could also be quadrilateral with Australia joining in, Hiramatsu said.