Siddharth Varadarajan

Nuclear issues will also figure during summit in Tokyo

New Delhi: Enhanced economic and security cooperation will top the agenda of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Tokyo for the fourth Indo-Japan summit in as many years. But despite securing a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group’s restrictive export guidelines last month, nuclear cooperation between the two countries still appears to be a bridge too far.

In a press conference on the eve of the Prime Minister’s departure for Japan, Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon said India was grateful for Tokyo’s support at the NSG and at the International Atomic Energy Board.

Though there was no concrete suggestion of bilateral nuclear cooperation at this stage, he said he was sure nuclear issues would come up in the meeting between Dr. Singh and his Japanese counterpart Taro Aso.

Despite corporate linkages between U.S. nuclear suppliers Westinghouse and General Electric and the Japanese firms Toshiba and Hitachi respectively, Mr. Menon said India did not believe there was any obstacle to the U.S. entities sourcing reactor components from Japan for projects in India despite the absence of a separate India-Japan agreement.

Dr. Singh will be in Tokyo from October 21 to 23 before leaving for Beijing to attend the October 24-25 summit of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), the seven-year-old grouping that India will participate in for the first time at the highest level.

‘Strategic partnership’

India attached great priority to its ‘strategic and global partnership’ with Japan, said Mr. Menon, adding that the two leaders were expected to give a political direction on how this partnership could be taken forward.

Though he did not provide details, Japanese diplomats told The Hindu last week that the summit would give a thrust to “stronger cooperation in the defence and security areas.”

Asked how India reacted to Japanese concepts like an “arc of democracy” in Asia comprising Japan, India, Australia and the U.S., Mr. Menon said he had not heard this phrase recently. “But we have been very careful of any such groupings or blocs,” he said, adding India’s preference was for “open [regional] architecture which is democratic and where we all have a say.”

Mr. Menon said the global financial crisis would figure in Dr. Singh’s discussions with Mr. Aso. Asked about the American proposal for a “G-8-plus” meeting to discuss measures to mitigate the crisis, the Foreign Secretary said India was ready to play a role but wanted any international meeting to be well prepared. If this was not so, he said, the global “crisis of confidence” would only get worse.

Briefing reporters about the ASEM summit, Secretary (East) N. Ravi said the Beijing meeting would see leaders from Asia and the European Union exchanging views on the financial crisis as well as the related problems of energy and food security and climate change.

Though the proposed Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement with Japan will not now be finalised during the Prime Minister’s visit after all, both sides are likely to emphasise the need for boosting bilateral trade to $20 billion by 2010. Japan is also collaborating with India on a dedicated domestic freight corridor as well as the Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor.

A separate business leaders’ meeting will be held in Tokyo during the Prime Minister’s visit, with the Indian side being led by Mukesh Ambani.