Japan, India enter 'new era,' but work remains for nuclear deal

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi.
PHOTO: Reuters

NEW DELHI - At a Japan-India summit meeting held Saturday, the two countries agreed to co-operate to broadly strengthen bilateral security and economic ties to counter emerging China. However, final negotiations still remain to conclude a bilateral nuclear co-operation agreement.

Visiting holy place

"Today, Japan and India are entering a new era of their bilateral relationship. We will move our ties up to another level," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at a joint press conference with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, touting the results of their summit meeting. Abe and Modi then visited Varanasi, a holy place for Hindus, to stress their close relationship.

The government hopes to make India a strong partner in Asia, as India has a population of more than 1.2 billion, comparable to China's 1.4 billion. In the joint statement issued after the summit meeting, Japan and India are described as "the largest and oldest democracies in Asia," and it is emphasised that the two countries are connected by common values.

The government is trying to conclude a bilateral nuclear co-operation agreement with India as early as possible out of a strong sense of urgency that, "If Japan stands idly by, China could make its way into India and obtain the core of India's energy supply," a senior Japanese government official said. The United States and India have already been promoting bilateral nuclear co-operation, so the Japanese nuclear industry, which has ties with the United States, will be able to move into India if a Japan-India nuclear co-operation agreement is concluded.

Competition with China is also intensifying over the export of high-speed railway systems. In September, Japan lost to China in bidding for a high-speed railway project in Indonesia. The government aims to first have Shinkansen bullet trains run between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, the route over which Japan and India agreed to introduce the Shinkansen system at the latest summit meeting, and then expand the system to other routes in India as well as in Southeast Asia.

The joint statement also refers to issues in the South China Sea, where China has been building artificial islands, though it does not mention China by name. The statement stipulates that Japan and India will seek an early conclusion of the negotiations to establish a code of conduct, which will legally regulate the actions of respective countries, in an attempt to put a brake on China.

Official N-deal pending

Regarding negotiations on the bilateral nuclear co-operation agreement, the focal issue was how to prevent India from conducting nuclear tests or diverting spent nuclear fuel for military use. As the only country to ever suffer the devastation of atomic bombings, Japan has been calling for the reduction of nuclear weapons.

In negotiations prior to the summit meeting, Japan asked India to give assurances that it would meet the following three conditions - continue the suspension of nuclear testing; accept International Atomic Energy Agency inspections; and prohibit the transfer of nuclear technologies to a third country. In addition, Japan called on India to include a provision in the agreement that all co-operation will be suspended if any of the three conditions is violated.

India was cautious about the provision, but Abe and Modi are believed to have confirmed at the summit meeting that India would make the commitment in words to be determined later. The two prime ministers therefore concluded just a basic agreement at the latest summit meeting.

How to incorporate the content of the agreement into provisions of the nuclear co-operation agreement and related documents will be left to future negotiations, so it is expected to take some time for the two countries to reach an "official agreement."

The government hopes to de facto include India, which is not a member of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, in the NPT regime by binding the country with strict rules under the bilateral nuclear co-operation agreement.