New Delhi: The Japanese government headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday announced that it had conferred a rare civilian honour on former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for enhancing ties between Asia’s second and third largest economies.

Singh is among 57 foreign recipients of the 2014 Autumn Imperial Decorations and the first Indian to be bestowed with the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Paulownia Flowers, which is a “high level National Order", a statement from the Japanese embassy said.

“The Grand Cordon of the Order of the Paulownia Flowers will be bestowed in recognition of his significant contributions to the enhancement of relations and the promotion of friendship between Japan and India for about 35 years," the statement said.

“The Grand Cordon of the Order of the Paulownia Flowers is a high level National Order rarely awarded to those who are recognized for their distinguished contributions," the statement added.

Japan, under the leadership of Abe, is widely seen as a friend of India. Abe is the grandson of Nobusuke Kishi, the first Japanese Prime Minister to visit independent India, in 1957.

Abe’s first meeting with Manmohan Singh took place a few months before his first term as prime minister in 2006, when he visited India as then Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, according to Singh’s former media advisor Sanjaya Baru who referred to the close ties between the two leaders in an article in the Hindu newspaper in December.

According to Baru, Singh brushed aside protocol and met Abe over tea. The two leaders have shared warm ties since.

Following his re-election as Japan’s prime minister for a second time in December 2012, Abe moved swiftly to cement closer relations with Asia’s third largest economy.

Last November, Abe cleared a visit to India by the Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko in response to an invitation pending for almost a decade.

Abe himself was chief guest at India’s Republic Day parade in January and moved swiftly to establish close ties with India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi after he was elected to office following the April-May polls.

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