October 23, 2008 12:27:00 am
India and Japan on Wednesday took the first strategic step that will likely check Chinese influence in Asia-Pacific by inking a unique declaration on security cooperation that involves joint defence exercises, policing of the Indian Ocean and military-to-military exchanges on counter-terrorism. This comes close on the heels of a civilian nuclear deal that India and the United States signed recently sparking talks of a new security order in the region with Australia joining in subsequently to complete the quadrilateral framework.
Simultaneously, the two countries also decided to give a much-needed political push at the highest level for an early conclusion of the talks on a proposed Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). The pact seeks to redefine bilateral trade between the Asian powerhouses which amounted to just $10 billion in 2006-07. The negotiations that started in January 2007 are stuck at official levels with both sides keen on extracting more from each other.
Not surprisingly, Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sought to play down the significance of the security declaration and also the growing proximity between the two countries on the economy and business front at their joint media briefing. Aso said the security pact was important from the perspective of peace and security, including Japan’s own security. “But we do not have any assumptions of a third country as a target, including China,” he added.
Singh, who is leaving for Beijing on Thursday to attend the Asia Europe Meeting (Asem), said there was no question that the trade pact with Japan was at the expense of any other country, least of all, China. “I sincerely believe there is no competition between India and China. The world offers enormous scope for meeting the developmental needs of both the countries,” he said.
Though New Delhi would have liked to take talks forward on a civilian nuclear agreement with Tokyo, it encountered the Japanese wall of caution and concern. Aso was unequivocal in Japan’s reluctance to start even a dialogue on nuclear energy. “We are not engaged in any talks on cooperation in nuclear energy. Prime Minister Singh did mention his desire for a future cooperation. But, it is important that India lives up to its expectations on continuation of a moratorium on nuclear testing,” Taro said.
Despite this, Singh took the opportunity to publicly thank Japan for supporting the Indo-US deal. “We are very grateful to the Government of Japan for the support it has extended to us in civil nuclear cooperation in the forums of the IAEA as well as the Nuclear Suppliers Group.” He said India sincerely desired to strengthen and develop its cooperation with Japan in civil nuclear energy. “But I do recognise the sensitivity of this issue in Japan and therefore mentioned to the Prime Minister that we will move at a pace at which the Japanese Government and people are comfortable with,” Singh said.
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