NEW DELHI :
Japan is pushing for India to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and is working with other countries that are part of the mega trade deal to ensure that New Delhi’s concerns are addressed, Atsushi Kaifu, deputy spokesman for the Japanese foreign ministry, said on Sunday. Kaifu, however, seemed to distance himself from a report last week that said Japan would not consider joining the China-led trade pact if India was not part of it.
The issue of India joining the RCEP was not discussed at the first ever “2+2" dialogue between the foreign and defence ministers of Japan and India in New Delhi on Saturday, the Japanese official said. However, the matter was raised when Japanese foreign minister Toshimitsu Motegi and defence minister Taro Kono called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of the “2+2" dialogue with Modi, Kaifu said. It was also discussed when foreign minister S. Jaishankar met Motegi last month on the sidelines of the G20 foreign ministers’ meet in Japan, he said.
“All 16 countries (including India) were working together to resolve India-related outstanding issues," Kaifu said when asked about a Bloomberg report last week that said Japan would not join the RCEP if India is not a part of it.
At the meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in Bangkok last month, 10 countries in South-East Asia and their six dialogue partners including India were to sign the RCEP that would have created the world’s largest free trade area. New Delhi, however, decided to stay out of it, worried that goods from China, with which India already has a $50 billion trade deficit, would flood the Indian market through third countries.
Several issues were discussed at the first “2+2" dialogue between Japan and India that is to form the backdrop for a visit to India this month by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for the annual Japan-India summit, Kaifu said. These include the situation in Sri Lanka following the elections last month that saw former defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa become the President. Japan aims to collaborate with India on connectivity projects in South Asia, including Sri Lanka as well as in India’s northeastern region, he said. “Sri Lanka was of particular interest to Japan given that it is located in the middle of our sea lanes of communication. I sensed an eagerness (between both countries) to work on development cooperation," the Japanese official said, adding that this could also be in Africa.
Kaifu also said that Japan was looking at the situation in Kashmir “very carefully". “I do not remember the ministers going into the detailed discussion on the specific issue. However, at the same time, I can say we looked at the situation there very carefully," he said.
In August, New Delhi revoked the special status granted to the region. Several Western countries have expressed concerns over the severance of communications links and restrictions over the movement of people though New Delhi has partially restored mobile phone and landline services.
India and Japan aimed to add to the strategic depth of their bilateral security and defence cooperation, according to a joint statement issued on Saturday after the “2+2" talks. The two countries also “welcomed the significant progress made in the negotiations of Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (logistics support pact to improve interoperability)," it said.