India sought to play down the impression that the visit of Japanese Emperor Akihito’s was in any way linked to the gathering tensions between Tokyo and Beijing over China’s Air Defence Identification Zone in the East China Sea or with the state of play over India-Japan negotiations over a civil nuclear agreement.

The Emperor arrives here on Saturday and during his six-day stay in India, he will retrace some of the steps he took as Prince when he first arrived here 53 years ago. Accompanied by his wife Empress Michiko, the Emperor will also visit places such as Chennai that symbolise the growth in India-Japan ties in recent years.

“Visits by the Japanese Emperor are very rare. The essential practice is for the Emperor to be studiously away from political and contemporary issues,” said Shambhu Kumaran, Director (East Asia) in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).

Asked whether Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will receive the Emperor at the airport and whether this meant a departure from the standard practice, officials said the standard norm of having senior officials and a Minister (in this case External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid) would be at the airport and the issue of Dr. Singh being present was being finalised. “There might be a possibility of this. If this happens it will not be the first time. There are a couple of instances such as the Prime Minister going to the airport to receive U.S. President Barack Obama,” he said.

“We will try and make this visit as important as can be. Please be certain that every aspect of protocol will be followed to ensure this would be a memorable visit,” said MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin.

Down memory lane

In their varied schedule, the royal couple will visit Buddhist sites around Bodh Gaya.

In Delhi, the Emperor will go down memory lane when he tours the India International Centre, whose foundation stone he laid on November 30, 1960, in the presence of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

But he will be breaking new ground on his visit to Chennai, which has emerged as the second largest concentration of Japanese expatriates after the National Capital Region, thanks to liberalisation and development of greater Chennai as a hub for the software and automotive industries.

For India and Japan, whose relationship remained correct and cordial during the Cold War years and took another decade-and-a half after that to reach the strategic sectors, the Japanese Emperor’s visit is a huge indicator of the closeness in ties both countries are aiming to foster, said a MEA official.

Both sides are poised for cooperation in sectors such as infrastructure development to defence cooperation and nuclear, each of them with investment potential of billions of dollars. In some areas such as the proposal to transfer an amphibious aircraft with military applications, Japan has made an exception for India.

Interactions to be formal

As another official pointed out, all interactions would be of a formal nature with virtually no matters of state expected to come up on the table when the Emperor meets President Pranab Mukherjee and Dr. Singh besides other senior Ministers and politicians. But “the visit will immeasurably expand and strengthen the India–Japan strategic and global partnership,” said the MEA.

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