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Japan PM Abe’s Soft Spot for India

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will jet off to India on Saturday having spent less than two days in Tokyo, following his whirlwind trip to Davos. After squeezing in the opening of parliament and a policy speech during his brief return, Mr. Abe now heads to New Delhi for yet another meet-and-greet with a world leader.

This will already be the premier’s third foreign trip this month, after visits to Oman, the Ivory Coast, Mozambique and Ethiopia as the jet-setting leader looks to strengthen Japan’s diplomatic muscle by personally meeting as many leaders as his schedule allows.

Mr. Abe will attend India’s Republic Day celebrations as chief guest, an honor that shows the growing closeness of the two nations.

While getting results has been a common theme on Mr. Abe’s numerous trips abroad during his second stint as prime minister, the latest trip to India is set to be largely symbolic. The desire to cram the visit into his packed schedule, suggests the importance Mr. Abe places on relations with India and perhaps also indicates a soft spot he has for the nation.

Japan and India have plenty of discussions on defense and investment underway, but none are expected to bear fruit at the latest meeting of Mr. Abe and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Instead, they are likely to merely reaffirm their commitment to ongoing projects.

Both countries have an interest in deepening ties to provide a counterweight to China’s growing presence in Asia.

Mr. Abe’s China containment policy makes befriending India an important strategy, as the two countries continue to strengthen their security ties through joint military exercises. Apart from their annual joint maritime drills, Japan is also hoping to sell its air-sea rescue US2 aircraft, and is establishing a joint feasibility group to that end.

In his role of salesman for Japan Inc., Mr. Abe also has his eye on the market potential of India’s 1.2 billion population and its 5% economic growth. Mr. Abe is likely to unveil yen loans for an expansion of New Delhi’s subway system using Japanese technology.

He is also pushing Japan’s shinkansen bullet trains and nuclear power reactors as he tries to boost sales of the nation’s infrastructure expertize overseas. Japan’s shrinking population and the prospect of a decades-long cleanup effort at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have forced Japan’s builders of big tech to look elsewhere for business opportunities.

During a previous visit to India, Mr. Abe made another point of interest in India clear.

India is home to the late Justice Radha Binod Pal, an Indian judge who was the lone dissenting voice in the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal that found Japan’s wartime military leaders guilty of war crimes. Justice Pal questioned the validity of a trial where war victors judged and sentenced the defeated. A monument is dedicated to his memory at the Yasukuni shrine – the controversial place of worship enshrining Japan’s war dead, including 14 convicted war criminals.

When Mr. Abe visited India during his first premiership in 2007, he met with Justice Pal’s son in Kolkata and told him that many Japanese continued to respect his father.

But foreign ministry officials said as far as they know, Mr. Abe won’t be meeting any relatives of Justice Pal on his upcoming trip.

 

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This news was published on January 24, 2014.

Writer: TOKO SEKIGUCHI

Source: http://blogs.wsj.com/japanrealtime/2014/01/24/japan-pm-abes-soft-spot-for-india/