As elections approach, New Delhi is trying to put the finishing touches to its partnership with the U.S. and Japan, especially in areas of civil nuclear energy, and projects that will enhance its access to Myanmar and Afghanistan.

South Block is sending at least half-a-dozen officials for the fifth India-U.S.-Japan trilateral in Tokyo to be held on Thursday and Friday. The composition of the team suggests the issues that will be discussed.

All three countries are fielding their disarmament and nuclear energy experts in an attempt to push forward the stalled civil nuclear energy agreement with the U.S. Japan is a vital third leg because one of its companies will supply a crucial component for the American nuclear reactors. This requires an India-Japan civil nuclear agreement and Tokyo’s nod on the terms of liability in case of an accident.

But the main course at the talks will be third country projects. Having spent five hours at the October’s India-U.S.-Japan trilateral in broadly outlining projects, officials, during the fifth round in Tokyo, will try to “move concepts to a stage where they will consider concrete projects that can be done by the three countries,” said official sources.

The meeting will pick up the issue of a route starting from India and going through upper Myanmar to eventually touch Vietnam. The project has also been discussed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the previous two summits with Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Phnom Penh and Jakarta.

As all three countries have taken an interest in reconstruction of Afghanistan, proposals relating to high impact projects will also be considered.

Japanese assistance

Briefing newspersons after a meeting between Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and his counterpart Salman Khurshid, Koichi Mizushima of the Japanese Foreign Ministry said the two leaders touched on most bilateral issues, including the Dedicated Freight Corridor and the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor — the two multi-billion-dollar projects that are taking shape with Japanese assistance.

However, there were no discussions on taking forward a memorandum of understanding in rare earths. India plans to export 6,000 tonnes of rare earth chloride to Toyota Tsusho, marking its entry into the sector after a seven-year-gap during which China dominated the market.

The two sides also signed a Japanese Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) whose two main components are a $130-million loan to Tamil Nadu for quick implementation of infrastructure projects such as roads, power, water supply and sewerage, and a $177.3 million for improving the education and research environment at the Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad.

$150 million for Uttarakhand

The Japan Foreign Minister also pledged $150 million for Uttarakhand, which was badly hit by landslips triggered by heavy rains in June. The focus will be on reconstruction of roads to holy shrines.

“Our work is guided by the spirit of pilgrimage common to the people of both countries. While Uttarakhand is a place for pilgrimage for people from all over India, pilgrimage in Japan began over 1,200 years ago when holy men called Hijiri would seclude themselves to practise spiritual austerity in the mountains. This shared idea of pilgrimage is the foundation of Indo-Japanese cooperation in Uttarakhand,” said a Japanese Government news release.

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