PM Narendra Modi will meet Shinzo Abe today: Nuclear deal, terror fight on table

Modi arrived at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport shortly after 10 pm on Thursday — his fourth visit in the last decade (twice as Gujarat Chief Minister in 2007 and 2012).

Written by Shubhajit Roy | Tokyo | Updated: November 11, 2016 12:07 pm
narendra modi, PM Modi Japan visit, japanese pm shinzo abe, modi japan visit, pm modi, nuclear deal, modi in japan, modi abe, shinzo abe, nsg, indian express news, india news Prime Minister Narendra Modi pays tribute to late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej in Bangkok on Thursday. (Source: PTI)

AS PRIME Minister Narendra Modi arrived here on Thursday night for his second visit to Japan since taking charge, sources told The Indian Express that Tokyo has agreed to a “robust” reference to terrorism in the joint statement to be released after the bilateral talks between Modi and his counterpart, Shinzo Abe, on Friday.

All eyes are also on the likely signing of the civilian nuclear deal between the two countries during the three-day visit.

Modi arrived at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport shortly after 10 pm on Thursday — his fourth visit in the last decade (twice as Gujarat Chief Minister in 2007 and 2012). “Reached Japan. Looking forward to fruitful deliberations that will boost economic and cultural ties between India and Japan,” he tweeted.

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Speaking to The Indian Express, a top Japanese government official said, “Terrorism, which has been an outlier subject in Japan’s national discourse, was brought closer home in July, when seven of our own — five men and two women, who were associated with the Japan International Cooperation Agency — were killed in a terrorist attack (in Dhaka’s Holey Artisan Bakery). The fact that one victim was pregnant had an emotional impact on the people of Japan. This made the common people and the government in Japan much more sensitive to the menace of terrorism, which was so far a sort of remote concept.”

While officials from New Delhi and Tokyo were still negotiating the joint document on Thursday, sources said it is likely to have references to the Dhaka, as well as Uri and Pathankot, attacks.

“While we want explicit references to Uri and Pathankot, Japanese officials have been saying that there are other ways to mention them,” said an Indian diplomat privy to the negotiations. Nevertheless, he said, the condemnation of those who support cross-border terrorism — an oblique reference to Pakistan — is expected to figure in the statement.

“In last year’s joint statement, the two leaders underlined the need for all countries to deal effectively with ‘trans-national terrorism emanating from their territory’. This language will see further improvement this time,” said sources. This could be the “strongest language” on terrorism in an India-Japan joint statement in recent years, said officials.

Japanese government sources said their foreign ministry has been getting reports about the “importance attached” to terrorism by the Indian government for some years now. But, of late, that has got more traction than before.

Sources said the two sides are likely to sign as many as 10 agreements, on issues ranging from culture to skill development. But the focus is on the possible signing of the civilian nuclear deal, more than six years after the negotiations began in June 2010.

Modi and Abe decided to unlock the civilian nuclear deal, which was stuck after the Fukushima disaster, in December last year and agreed “in-principle” on the broad contours of the cooperation.

While Japan dropped its reservations on India’s non-NPT signatory status, Tokyo has been keen that New Delhi reiterates its unilateral moratorium commitment on nuclear tests. Japanese media has reported that Tokyo has put in the termination clause in a separate memorandum, outside the main text of the agreement. However, there has been no confirmation from the Indian side about this.

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“We have a template in the India-US nuclear deal. We have broadly stuck to it with all major nuclear material or reactor supplier countries in the world,” said a senior Indian official.

Another issue of concern is India’s right to reprocess the spent fuel. Though notional at this stage, sources said they have agreed to a joint mechanism of stakeholder countries — under the aegis of the International Atomic Energy Agency — which would monitor the fuel cycle in nuclear reactors. “That would not lead to calls for intrusive inspections, and the IAEA can see for itself and lend credibility to India’s claims,” said a Japanese government source.

“The nuclear deal will be the biggest thing during the visit. Although there will be some protests because India has not signed the NPT, I have been saying that the NPT has a lot of contradictions… If we stick to it, we will be isolated. And without Japan’s consent, US and France will not be able to engage in nuclear commerce with India. Why should Japan block that,” said Takako Hirose, professor at Senshu University.

She said that with regard to economic benefits, the nuclear deal would not be very beneficial. “It is not a sale of 100 reactors and it takes years to commission a plant. But, as a symbol, it is important because it is an irritant in the relationship,” she said.

Kumao Kaneko, a former Japanese diplomat and negotiator on nuclear issues, said the NPT has been a treaty of “convenience and expediency”. “India adheres to NPT principles although it has not signed the treaty. By signing the agreement, Japan is doing the correct thing… but the Abe government has to work hard in the Diet (Japan’s parliament) to get the naysayers on board.”

There is also expectation on the Japanese side that there will be some progress on the purchase of the amphibious US-2 planes. The two sides have been discussing the sale of this aircraft for at least three years now.

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“It is a terrific news for both countries, and for peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region, if India acquires Japan’s sophisticated amphibious aircraft. Although it is still unclear whether the Indian side will purchase the completed aircraft… it will enhance Indian Navy’s ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) capabilities in the Indian Ocean,” said Ryosuke Hanada, a senior fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs.

Having said that, there are challenges in this defence equipment transfer… The follow-up plan between Japan’s maritime self defence forces and the Indian Navy is indispensable at this stage,” he said, adding that only three Indian military officers came to Japan to study in its defence-related institutions this year. In contrast, he said, Japan had 10 officers from Vietnam and Thailand.

Officials said there is a possibility of more military exchanges between the two sides, which is likely to be mentioned in the joint statement. This comes close on the heels of Japan becoming a permanent member of the Malabar exercises with India and the US — much to the discomfiture of China.

Modi will also meet Japan’s Emperor Akihito and address the business community.