LESS THAN 48 hours before Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was scheduled to arrive in India for the annual bilateral summit meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, New Delhi and Tokyo on Friday decided to put off his visit in the backdrop of protests in the North-East, especially Assam, over the new citizenship law.
“With reference to the proposed visit of Japanese PM Abe to India, both sides have decided to defer the visit to a mutually convenient date in the near future,” Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) official spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said on Friday.
Abe, who was scheduled to arrive on Sunday for a three-day visit (December 15-17), was expected to travel to Guwahati for the meeting. While the MEA had announced the dates, there was no official announcement on the venue — although preparations were underway in Assam’s capital.
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But with the ongoing protests in the region, the situation was considered “not conducive” for a “high-profile visit”.
Sources said the idea of picking Guwahati as the venue was to showcase India’s Act-East policy in tune with the Japanese government’s support. Abe’s presence was meant to signal the priority to North-East in India’s diplomacy.
But the current situation led to an assessment by Japanese diplomats that the time was not appropriate for a visit, which would be marred by the attention to the ongoing protests. Sources said Japan was keen that the visit should take place in an atmosphere where the outcomes get the attention and priority they deserve. “It was not supposed to be a visit for the sake of a visit,” a source said.
Delhi was a last-minute option, but since the signal to the North-East was a common priority, the two sides decided to cancel the visit for now.
Sources said the summit was now likely to take place in 2020, but the common understanding between Delhi and Tokyo is that it should be held in the North-East.
Odisha, which was initially considered as a possible venue, could not be readied in such short notice. However, sources did not rule out the summit taking place in the eastern state as well.
The cancellation of Abe’s visit came a day after Bangladesh Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen and Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan called off their visits to India following enactment of the controversial law.
Over the last few weeks, Indian and Japanese officials had made preparations for the visit — Japanese defence and foreign ministers had visited India for the 2+2 ministerial level dialogue on November 30.