Home / Politics / Policy /  India’s Republic Day invite to Japan’s Shinzo Abe seen as ‘epic signal’

India’s gesture of inviting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to be the chief guest at the country’s 65th Republic Day celebrations later this month is “an epic signal" of the strengthening of India-Japan bilateral ties, a key Japanese politician said Monday.

Natsuo Yamaguchi, who heads the New Komeito Party, the junior coalition partner of Abe’s ruling Liberal-Democratic Party, made the comment when asked about the Japanese Prime Minister’s proposed visit to India for the 26 January ceremony.

“This is for the first time that a Japanese Prime Minister is going to be the chief guest (at the Republic Day celebrations)," Yamaguchi said, speaking through an Indian interpreter in New Delhi after talks with India’s vice-president Hamid Ansari and foreign minister Salman Khurshid.

“This ( the invitation) speaks of the importance India and Japan are giving to their relationship," Yamaguchi said, noting that Japan and India have been working closely together and forging partnerships in many areas. “I believe it will send a great epic signal... for the strengthening of the partnership," Yamaguchi added.

Invitations to the Republic Day celebrations in the capital are extended “after a lot of thought", said C.U. Bhaskar, an analyst with the South Asia Monitor think-tank. “It is not a casual choice."

Japan-India ties have warmed considerably since the India-friendly Abe took office after the 16 December 2012 polls in Japan. After taking over, Abe’s cabinet gave its go-ahead for a visit to India by Japanese emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko.

The invite 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 Asian giant China over a group of disputed islands in the East China Sea.

Both China and Japan claim the island, which the Japanese call the Senkaku and the Chinese call the Daioyu. 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".

Last month, 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.

The national security strategy was also discussed at a meeting between visiting Japanese defence minister Itsunori Onodera and his Indian host A.K. Antony in New Delhi on Monday.

“Minister Onodera briefed on Japan’s National Security Strategy and the National Defence Programme Guidelines, which were adopted in December 2013. The Defence Minister of India A.K. Antony appreciated the detailed briefing," the Indian government said in a statement, adding that the two sides “shared views on issues relating to the peace, stability and prosperity of the region".

On India-Japan civil nuclear cooperation, Yamaguchi, whose party is seen as favouring the elimination of nuclear weapons, said discussions between the two countries needed to be accelarated, but he sought a “flexible approach" on issues such as nuclear non-proliferation, signing of the comprehensive test ban treaty and the safe use of nuclear technology for civilian purposes.

Yamaguchi also met Amitabh Kant, the chief of the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC), the ambitious $90 billion infrastructure programme that aims to develop new industrial cities along a 1,483km stretch connecting Delhi and Mumbai and passing through Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra. During talks, Kant told the Japanese side that part of the DMIC project would take off by 2017, Yamaguchi said.

Imparting skills to India’s youth and balancing environmental concerns with development needs were the other issues discussed during the talks with Ansari and Khurshid, Yamaguchi said, adding that Japan was keen to play a role in India’s economic growth.

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