India, Japan to discuss N. Korea-Pak. nuke ties

NEW DELHI Jan. 3. Amid a rapidly deteriorating security environment in East Asia, the Foreign Minister of Japan, Yoriko Kawaguchi, arrives here early next week to inject some strategic content into the bilateral relations with India.

The crisis created by North Korea's threat to restart its nuclear weapons programme in defiance of the international community is expected to figure prominently in Ms. Kawaguchi's talks with the Indian leaders.

The clandestine nuclear and missile cooperation between Pakistan and North Korea, the details of which have been revealed in the U.S. media in recent weeks, is likely to come up for detailed discussion when Ms. Kawaguchi has consultations with the External Affairs Minister, Yashwant Sinha, on Tuesday.

During her two-day visit, Ms. Kawaguchi, a former civil servant and Minister for Environment, will also call on the President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, and the Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani.

Security planners here and in Tokyo are painfully aware that Pakistan's assistance to North Korea's nuclear weapon programme and Pyongyang's transfer of missile technology to Islamabad have tightly linked the sub-continent's problems to those of East Asia.

Will the shared misery drive India and Japan towards purposeful strategic cooperation? Displaying characteristic caution, Japanese sources are not willing to either publicly criticise Pakistan's role in nuclearising the Korean peninsula or speak up on its political consequences for New Delhi and Tokyo.

International media reports say that Ms. Kawaguchi had decided to call off her visit to Islamabad after the Bush Administration had recently briefed Tokyo on the nuclear nexus between Pakistan and North Korea.

Denying the reports, Japanese sources say, Ms. Kawaguchi had to scrap the Pakistan leg of the visit because of scheduling problems. Ms. Kawaguchi had initially planned to visit Colombo, New Delhi and Islamabad.

Despite the cautious public position being adopted by Japan, there is no doubt that North Korea's atomic arsenal, built with assistance from China and Pakistan, has begun to unravel many traditional premises of Japan's security policy.

Besides the nuclear challenge from North Korea, Japan is also concerned at its increasing economic and political marginalisation in Asia by the growing clout of China. The rise of China and its implications for Asian balance are of long-term significance to both New Delhi and Tokyo.

It is in this context that Japan's interest in expanding political cooperation with India must be seen. Ms. Kawaguchi, sources say, wants to convince the Indian leaders that "Japan attaches considerable importance to developing relations with India from a strategic point of view.''

But she will have to overcome scepticism in New Delhi that Japan really means it this time. While India and Japan have put behind the bitterness generated by Tokyo's harsh reaction to New Delhi's nuclear tests in May 1998, their relations remain wary.

Even when political leaders in Tokyo have signalled a positive direction on India, the Japanese bureaucracy has relentlessly stifled any movement towards strategic cooperation.

Japan's earlier attempts to appear "balanced and even handed'' between India and Pakistan and occasional diplomatic initiatives from Tokyo on the Kashmir question have irritated New Delhi. India is also keeping an eye on the new Japanese interest in gaining a role in the current peace process in Sri Lanka.

Although the two defence establishments have begun to engage each other, India is yet to find Japan ready to freely share its security concerns and look ahead for constructive political cooperation.

If Ms. Kawaguchi comes up with worn-out formulations on non-proliferation and Indo-Pak. dialogue, the Indian side might respond with a big yawn. But if she offers a serious analysis of the shared threats facing the two countries and imaginative proposals on launching a strategic partnership, India will be all ears.

The whole of Asia knows that an expansive agenda — from combating terrorism, to energy security and preserving the Asian balance of power

— is inviting India and Japan to work together.

Analysts here underline the potential for a new beginning in Ms. Kawaguchi's visit, but are also aware of the long story of missed opportunities in the past. So, when Ms. Kawaguchi says she is looking for a strategic partnership with India, the Government is waiting with an open mind and crossed fingers.

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