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New Delhi: India features prominently in Japan’s foreign policy and forging better ties with Asia’s third largest economy enjoys bipartisan support across the Japanese political spectrum, a key aide to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Monday.

Speaking to an audience in New Delhi via video link from Tokyo during a seminar titled India’s Japan moment organized by the Ananta Aspen Centre think-tank, Tomohiko Taniguchi, special adviser to Abe, said he hoped that “sooner rather than later" the Delhi-Tokyo relationship will be upgraded to a “very special relationship that encompasses not just the economic relationship, the investment relationship but also national security and foreign policy".

Stating that India held a special place in Prime Minister Abe’s mind, Taniguchi identified defence and nuclear energy as one of the areas of convergence that both sides could work on in the future. He recalled that Abe had named former prime minister Manmohan Singh as one of his mentors, adding that Abe and Modi would “find themselves on the same page" too.

The comments come as India and Japan prepare for a visit to Tokyo by newly elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi—possibly in August. The visit, expected to take place in the first week of July, has been postponed due to the new Parliament’s crucial budget session, expected to start on 7 July.

Japan was one of the few countries Modi visited as the chief minister of Gujarat in 2012. This happened at a time when Modi was shunned by many western governments for his alleged inaction in stopping the 2002 sectarian riots in Gujarat. Modi has since been cleared of blame by an Indian court. Modi is also one of three people that Abe follows on the micro-blogging website Twitter.

Japan-India ties have warmed considerably since the India-friendly Abe took office after the 16 December 2012 polls in Japan—causing Asian giant China to view both with a wary eye.

After taking over, Abe’s cabinet gave its go-ahead for a visit to India by Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko. The invitation from India had been pending for a decade and the visit took place in November.

The warming of India-Japan relations also come against the backdrop of a spike in tensions between Japan and China over a group of disputed islands in the East China Sea. Both China and Japan claim the islands, which the Japanese call the Senkaku and the Chinese call the Diaoyu. In November, China tried to establish its authority over the islands by demanding that all aircraft flying in the region obey its rules or face “emergency defensive measures". In December, the Japanese cabinet approved the country’s first-ever national-security strategy that calls for a more proactive approach to security despite Japan’s post-World War II pacifist constitution.

India too has its share of problems with China, which includes a dragging border dispute with China, a legacy of their 1962 war.

The Indian government invited Abe as the chief guest to India’s Republic Day parade this year—a sign that New Delhi was seeking deeper ties with Japan.

On the economic front, there were 1,000 Japanese firms in India and Suzuki Motor Corp., Toshiba Corp., Honda Motor Co. Ltd, Panasonic Corp. and Mitsubishi Corp. are household names in India. But despite this, India’s trade with Japan in 2012-13 was just $18.5 billion, rising marginally from $18.3 billion in 2011-12.

The speakers at the seminar included Suresh Prabhu, power minister in the previous Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government that administered the country in 1998-2004 who called for the setting up of special economic zones and manufacturing hubs for Japanese companies.

Energy production and efficience were areas that energy deficient India could learn from Japan, he said.

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