Negotiations on energy cooperation had stagnated after the Fukushima incident in 2011

Even as a motley group of youngsters outside the Japanese Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) here chanted, “No to nuclear exports”, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe inked a joint statement directing officials of their countries to “accelerate” the negotiations of an Agreement for Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy.

India has reasons to be happy with the wording of the statement though it sets up no timeline and comes with some caveats. The pact, however, is not likely to be inked before the 2014 general election as the UPA would like. Talks on energy cooperation had come to a virtual halt after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster late in 2011.

A senior official in the Japanese PMO, who briefed the Indian media contingent, maintained that the pact could not be reached within two years as the process would involve progress on two different tracks.

The biggest plus for India is that the statement carries no reference to New Delhi signing the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a precondition for Tokyo to consider civil nuclear cooperation. Three days before the summit, an influential Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun had said Tokyo should insist on New Delhi becoming a member of the NPT club before it agreed on the civil nuclear energy agreement.

The statement said Dr. Singh reiterated India’s commitment to its unilateral and voluntary moratorium on nuclear explosive testing and the two Prime Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to working together for immediate commencement and an early conclusion of negotiations on a non-discriminatory, multilateral and internationally effectively verifiable Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT).

Both sides expressed their commitment to continue working to prepare the ground for India to become a full member in the international export control regimes — the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Australia Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement.

Observers were of the view that the CTBT was not just India’s problem but one for the United States, while it was only Pakistan that had issues with the FMCT.

Briefing the Indian media, Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said the summit took India-Japan relations to a new level. The two largest Asian democracies would, he said, have to play a major role in ensuring safety and prosperity in the region.

The statement noted: “They expressed their resolve to further consolidate and strengthen the Strategic and Global Partnership between India and Japan in the years ahead, taking into account changes in the strategic environment”.

Talking about the first bilateral exercise between the Indian Navy (IN) and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), the statement said leaders of both nations decided to establish a Joint Working Group (JWG) to explore modalities for the cooperation on the U.S.-2 amphibious aircraft.

In an oblique reference to issues surrounding the South China Sea, the statement said both sides reiterated their commitment to the freedom of navigation and unimpeded commerce based on the principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).