Abe hopes to seal Japan’s first defence sale in 40 years on visit

New Delhi, Jan. 25: Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits India this weekend, hoping to wrap up the first overseas sale of military equipment by Tokyo in nearly four decades and open up the world’s biggest arms market for his nation’s defence manufacturers.

In a sign of growing warmth between the two nations, Abe will be the chief guest at Republic Day parade on Sunday.

But before that, he will meet with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to seal significant defence and trade deals during their bilateral annual summit.

Abe’s visit will underline growing business and political ties between the two nations as they close ranks against mutual rival China, with the initial focus on the sale of amphibious search and rescue aircraft to India.

Indo-Japan expert and associate professor of Japanese studies at New Delhi’s Jawharlal Nehru University, Srabani Roy Choudhury, said that the rising tensions with China promoted good relations between India and Japan.

“India is special to Japan because as tensions become more between China and Japan and it doesn’t seem to be in a position that it will going to get erased very fast. Then looking at business point of view India would become the next destination and this is why probably Japan is trying to make strong bonding at the political level by these activities or visits,” she said.

Japan and India are also trying to finalise an agreement on civilian nuclear energy that would open up the Indian market to Japanese players, officials said, reflecting another shift in Tokyo’s policy on a sensitive issue. However, a Japanese official said a signing was unlikely during the visit.

Japanese officials say the proposed sale of ShinMaywa US-2i planes would not infringe Japan’s self-imposed ban on arms exports because the aircraft to be given to India will be unarmed and can be used for civilian purposes.

The plane, built by ShinMaywa Industries, could be outfitted for firefighting or as a kind of amphibious hospital and costs an estimated 110 million U.S. dollars per unit. ShinMaywa estimates that there could be a global market of about 100 amphibious planes for which it could compete.

Still, it will give India considerable aviation reach across the seas and could raise China’s ire.

Abe is seeking a more assertive military and national security posture for Japan, whose post-war constitution, written by U.S.-led occupation forces, renounces war and a standing army.

Choudhury also said that Japan aims to contain China by drawing equation across Asia.

“India and Japan has no historical baggage and that makes it very easy for Japan and India to extend hands towards each other. Containing China is not a matter of showing their military power but to contain China through the soft power of drawing equation across Asia is probably Japan’s long-term plan,” she added.

Japan is also involved in various projects aimed at revamping India’s antiquated infrastructure and building high-speed railway connections and industrial corridors between the cities of Delhi and Mumbai, and Chennai and Bangalore.

Abe will be accompanied by several top executives from companies like Mitsubishi Heavy, Sumitomo Chemical Toshiba and Hitachi, which are looking to expand commercial operations in India, the Confederation of Indian Industry said.

Arun Bhagat, chief of one of India’s leading infrastructure companies, GMR Urban Infrastructure, said India with its 1.3 billion people would provide Japan a huge market for its goods while Japan would be a great source to tap into for funds and expertise.

“Japan will gain a very big market, Japan will gain access to the Indian skill set and India hopes to get Japanese investment, Japanese capital long-term, Japanese technology in many areas and potential partnership for third countries,” said Bhagat.

Abe is expected to inform Singh that Japan will provide yen loans totalling about 210 billion yen for construction of subway lines and energy-conservation projects, the Nikkei newspaper reported.

A Japanese official said the two sides will also likely talk about ways to make India’s business environment friendlier to foreign companies. (ANI)