INTERNATIONAL

Japan slides to a distant date in Modi’s calendar

Narendra Modi, then the Chief Minister of Gujarat, talking to Japan’s Shinzo Abe in Tokyo in a 2012 file photo. —PHOTO: PTI

Narendra Modi, then the Chief Minister of Gujarat, talking to Japan’s Shinzo Abe in Tokyo in a 2012 file photo. —PHOTO: PTI  

After postponing his trip to Japan scheduled for July 3, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is zeroing in on a date two months later, in early September, The Hindu has learnt. Sources said the visit had to be delayed because of difficulties in matching Mr. Modi’s schedule and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s schedule, pushing back the proposed “paradigm shift” in ties when the two leaders meet.

Expected much earlier

Mr. Modi’s visit to Japan had been expected to come much earlier, given the warm personal ties he reportedly shares with Mr. Abe. India and Japan are on the verge of a civil nuclear cooperation agreement, major naval exercises, as well as a slew of infrastructural joint ventures, and Mr. Abe had set the ball rolling for an intense period of engagement when he came to India as the chief guest for the Republic Day this year.

Mr. Abe was also one of the first leaders to call Mr. Modi when he won the election in May, and during the conversation via teleconferencing,

Mr. Modi is understood to have promised that he would make Japan his first bilateral visit, a visit scheduled for the first week of July. The schedule was first reported in the Japanese media, and picked up widely in Japan and China.

When Mr. Modi decided to visit Bhutan first, as a mark of his commitment to sub-continental neighbours, Japan was still expected to be his first big international foray.

However, on June 18, after a pre-budget Cabinet meeting, Mr. Modi wrote to Mr. Abe, apologising for having to put off his Japan visit, owing to parliamentary commitments.

The decision didn’t go down well in Tokyo, given that preparations for the trip were already under way and news of the postponement had reached the Japanese Foreign Ministry not through official channels, but via news agency reports.

The undercurrent of high-level meetings with Japan’s rival China, including their Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to New Delhi, and Mr. Modi’s big-ticket meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Brazil, have also been commented in the Japanese media.

Shortly after Mr. Modi’s decision, Japan called off the Indo-U.S.-Japan trilateral meeting scheduled for June 23 in New Delhi, although officials maintained it was an unconnected event.

Mr. Modi’s letter to Mr. Abe went some way in smoothing ruffled feelings and came with the promise of making the visit shortly after the Budget session of Parliament ends. However, Mr. Abe has a crowded schedule as he will be touring Australia and New Zealand this week. He will be heading to South America in July end, early August for a marathon five-nation tour there.

The Hindu has learnt that Mr. Modi had also considered visiting Japan around August 6, and paying respects at the Peace Memorial Park at Hiroshima on the anniversary of the bombing. However, after many back and forth negotiations between diplomats, it seems Mr. Modi will only make the trip in early September.

By that time, he would have met more than a dozen other world leaders, including SAARC and BRICS leaders and South American heads of State, not including the near-meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that was put off due to the football World Cup.

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