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In signal to China,Manmohan Singh embraces Japan’s idea

There is great public goodwill in both countries: Manmohan Singh

Written by Pranab Dhal Samanta | Tokyo |
May 29, 2013 9:23:45 pm

In an unambiguous signal to China,Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Tuesday asserted India’s strategic preference as he described Japan as a “natural and indispensable partner” and framed the Indo-Pacific as a new axis for cooperation in the region.

Singh also laid out a three-pronged approach to take this strategic cooperation forward,and in doing so,endorsed his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe’s vision articulated in an address to the Indian Parliament in 2007.

Japan,Singh said,is a natural and indispensable partner in the “quest for stability and peace in the vast region in Asia that is washed by the Pacific and Indian Oceans”. The last time the PM used the term Indo-Pacific was at the India-ASEAN meet in Delhi in December.

What was an even stronger message to China was Singh’s endorsement of settling maritime disputes according to international law. While that has been India’s stated position,the fact that he included this in his three-point prescription for the Indo-Pacific is significant because Japan,like many smaller countries in the region,is in the middle of a tense territorial dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands.

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Outlining his approach in an address to the Japan-India Association today,Singh identified three key areas of cooperation to strengthen the idea of an Indo-Pacific strategic confluence:

* Forge greater regional interaction to “develop habits of consultation” and “evolve commonly accepted principles for managing differences”.

* Promote regional economic integration and connectivity for a “more balanced regional architecture.

* Ensure maritime security in the Indo-Pacific by upholding principles of “freedom of navigation and unimpeded lawful commerce in accordance with international law and resolve maritime issues peacefully”,while addressing common challenges like piracy.

Both speeches that Singh made in Tokyo Tuesday carried a common central message that the two countries have commonalities that are essential ingredients to take the relationship forward. While he did mention China,the attributes he identified are ones specifically missing in the India-China relationship.

“As Asian democracies,we have shared values. We have a very comfortable relationship between the two governments. There is also great public goodwill in both countries,” Singh said.

He recalled Abe’s 2007 address to Parliament in India,where Abe had first introduced the Indo-Pacific idea by projecting the relationship between India and Japan as a confluence between the Pacific and Indian Oceans. His imagination had captured the entire expanse,stretching from Australia to India.

The proposal did not move much further as it involved politically sensitive ideas such as holding trilateral and quadrilateral military exercises. While New Delhi may still be reluctant to move in these specific areas,Singh Tuesday gave the first clear signal that India is now prepared to politically explore the broader idea.

In the process,the PM also underlined that for New Delhi,the India-Japan commercial relationship is a strategic objective and must be treated in the same way.

Speaking to the business community at the Nippon-Keidanren earlier in the day,Singh said: “A stronger commercial partnership between our two countries should be the cornerstone of our relationship. It would not only contribute to each other’s economic growth,but will also be in the strategic interest of India and Japan.”

Singh summed it up by making it clear that India,like the rest of the world,has a large stake in Japan’s revival,calling it the “locomotive of Asian renaissance”.

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