New Delhi: Japan and India moved to expand air-force ties before Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits New Delhi this month, bolstering relations two months after China declared an air-defence identification zone in a disputed area.

Japan’s defense minister Itsunori Onodera and his Indian counterpart A.K. Antony discussed starting talks between air-force officials while reaffirming plans to conduct regular naval exercises, according to an Indian government statement on Monday. The Asia’s second- and third-largest economies may also conduct pilot exchanges.

The ministers decided to strengthen India-Japan defence consultation and cooperation, including those related to maritime security, the government said. Indian naval vessels will visit Japan to conduct exercises this year, it said.

Japan and India, which both have territorial disputes with China, are increasing ties as tensions escalate in Northeast Asia. China and South Korea rejected Abe’s call for talks on Monday after his visit to a war shrine last week drew an angry response from both countries.

Shinzo Abe’s trip to India will be the first by a Japanese leader since 2011, when the countries agreed to boost security ties in the face of China’s growing assertiveness.

Last month, Japanese Emperor Akihito visited India for the first time in five decades, and the nations’ navies conducted bilateral training exercises for the second time in as many years. The countries have also increased financial ties, with India approving an increase in the bilateral currency swap arrangement between the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the Bank of Japan to $50 billion from $15 billion.

China in November unnerved its neighbours by declaring an air defence zone in the East China Sea that overlaps with Japan’s zone and includes uninhabited islands claimed by both nations.

An April military standoff between China and India marked the most serious incident between the nuclear-armed neighbours in a quarter of a century on the Himalayan border where the world’s most-populous countries fought a brief war in 1962. Bloomberg

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