Abe strapped for time but Tokyo keen on ties

‘There is all-party consensus in Japan to send him to New Delhi, even it means his skipping a few days of Diet session’

January 25, 2014 11:47 pm | Updated May 13, 2016 12:22 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

Had the Japanese leadership not been so keen on building ties with India, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wouldn’t have arrived here to take part in the Republic Day parade as chief guest.

There was an all-party consensus in Japan to send Mr. Abe to New Delhi though it meant his skipping one of the opening days of the Diet. By custom, the Prime Minister and his Ministers are supposed to be in attendance, for it is the time when the annual budget is discussed and passed by parliament, say sources close to Mr. Abe.

On top of it, Mr. Abe had just returned from Davos and should have ideally spent the weekend, discussing strategies for the parliamentary session with his aides.

This led to a very un-Japanese scheduling of his trip. The Japanese prepare meticulously for any major visit as was the case when their royal couple travelled to India last month. A month before the arrival of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, Japanese diplomats were pacing the Lodhi Garden and practising baby steps on path ways the royal couple were to tread.

It is different during Mr. Abe’s visit. The Indians were confident he would be the chief guest at the Republic Day parade and would not do a Sultan of Oman, who did not come for last year’s parade, causing diplomatic tremors in South Block, which then hastily drafted the King of Bhutan for the role.

But till two days ago, the Japanese had not officially confirmed whether Mr. Abe would come. An invitation for a briefing said Mr. Abe “intends to come, if circumstances permit.” With less than 24 hours to go for his arrival, Tokyo finally announced that Mr. Abe would indeed visit India.

“It is a busy visit due to the start of Diet session on Friday. Before that he was in Davos. Till the last moment, things were being worked out, and he was somehow allowed to go to India. Till then, we were unable to publicly say he would go to India. It is not mandatory for Prime Ministers to attend Diet all times, but it is a practice for them to be present during the first part of the session when the budget is presented and discussed,” an Abe aide said.

“Fortunately the mood is better because the main Opposition Democratic Party of Japan has been in power and knows what it means to tie up top Ministers here instead of permitting them to make meaningful trips. Otherwise, how can you pursue effective diplomacy,” she asked. “And this explains why a majority in the Diet felt Mr. Abe’s trip to India should be encouraged.”

The last-minute squeezing in of the trip led to innovations as well as ad-hoc decisions. Barely 45 minutes after landing here, Mr. Abe was closeted with President Pranab Mukherjee. And from this meeting, he headed for delegation-level talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. As Mr. Abe was strapped for time, the major part of a seminar had concluded before his arrival. After completing his engagements on Sunday, Mr. Abe will leave first thing on Monday, becoming the first Japanese Prime Minister to be the chief guest at the parade.

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