Noda makes a conciliatory phone call to Manmohan

With domestic politics in Japan resulting in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh postponing his visit to Tokyo at the 11th hour, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda made a conciliatory phone call on Thursday and agreed on forward movement on two pending issues.

These issues would otherwise have been decided during the summit meeting this weekend between the two leaders.

During the telephonic conversation, both professed faith in the India-Japan Strategic and Global Partnership and agreed that in view of the dissolution of the Japanese Lower House of Parliament to be announced on November 16, Dr. Singh’s visit could take place at a later date.

They welcomed the conclusion of the agreement on social security as well as a memorandum on cooperation (MoC) in the rare earths industry in India. They also reiterated their desire to maintain the schedule of annual summits.

The social security agreement (SSA) will immediately benefit about 30,000 citizens of both countries – about 22,000 Indians working in Japan and about 8,000 Japanese employed in India – whose social security contributions won’t be deducted in both countries.

While the SSA will benefit a few thousands, the MoC has strategic significance. The resolve to cooperate in rare earths was expressed during Dr. Singh’s visit to Tokyo in 2010 at the time when China, the world’s biggest repository of rare earths, decided to cut off their exports to Japan following a territorial dispute.

Since then, several rounds of discussions have been held between Toyota Tsusho and Indian Rare Earths Limited for a joint project to refine rare earth minerals in India and export them to Japan. Preliminary talks had indicated an export figure of about 5,000 tonnes of rare earths that will be used mainly in mobile phone and automobile sectors.

Japan has in the past imported all its rare earth requirements from China but has been scouting for alternatives after political turbulence hit its ties with Beijing. For instance, Sumitomo has tied with the Kazakh company Kazatomprom for mining in eastern Kazakhstan.

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