Japan has sought to put across the message that Emperor Akihito’s ongoing visit has the singular aim of improving bilateral ties with India rather than trying to counter China with whom it has sovereignty issues over a chain of islands in East China Sea.

“The difference in Japan’s ties with China and its ties with India is staggering. This visit gives us another moment of proximity with India,’’ said veteran diplomat Sakutaro Tanino, who is accompanying the Emperor and was Japan’s Ambassador both in Delhi and Beijing. In order to dissipate that impression, the Emperor’s banquet speech on Monday is unlikely to have any reference to China.

Mr. Tanino gave some indicators – Japanese visitors to India were 1.9 lakh compared to over 36 lakh to China; only 541 Indian students study in Japan, compared to over 86,000 Chinese; there are only 7,000 Japanese residents in India, against 1.5 lakhs in China; 18,000 Indian students are learning Japanese, compared to 8.27 lakh in China; and there are 26 flight connections a week Japan and India against 668 between Japan and China.

“The ratio of Japan’s engagement with India and China is 1:30 or 1:50 on most counts,’’ he pointed out while admitting to ongoing difficulties in ties with China. “There should be some good mechanism to ensure something untoward won’t happen in the sea and particularly in the air. We have good agreements with Russia and South Korea. We were negotiating a similar mechanism to take care of the crises,’’ he said while acknowledging that nationalist sentiments in the media on both sides will make the problem tough to resolve.

But the sequence of events leading to the Emperor visiting India does have a correlation with Japan’s declining political relations with China. Four years ago, the Japanese government planned to act on New Delhi’s decade-old invitation but an earthquake, followed by the Emperor’s illness, led to postponement. India renewed the invitation last year and the Japanese government, with India-friendly Shinzo Abe as Prime Minister, readily decided to send the Emperor for a six-day visit.

As Tamaki Tsukada, another diplomat accompanying the Emperor, explained Japan’s attraction for both India and China. “We have a word ‘Sangoku’, which means three countries. And there is a saying in Japanese that the most beautiful and gracious girls in the world are to be found in ‘Sangoku’ comprising Japan, China and India.’’

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