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Japan's PM Calls For Closer Ties With India


Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has been accorded the rare honor of addressing India's parliament. VOA's Steve Herman in New Delhi reports the Japanese leader told Indian lawmakers they need to consider a closer security alignment between the two Asian democracies.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday called for India to join a Japan-inspired "arc of freedom and prosperity" across Asia and the Pacific. The idea, a clear example of Japan's more muscular diplomacy, was greeted largely with silence.

"The strategic and global partnership of Japan and India is pivotal for such pursuits to be successful," he said. "By Japan and India coming together in this way this broader Asia will evolve into an immense network spanning the entirety of the Pacific Ocean, incorporating the United States of America and Australia."

Speaking to a joint session of India's parliament, Mr. Abe said the four nations working together could protect maritime shipping lanes, vital to the world economy.

Mr. Abe is also hoping to expand economic ties between the two Asian democracies, something pledged by both countries at a summit in Tokyo last December. But he noted more effort is needed to reach a free trade agreement.

"It is incumbent upon me to urge the Japanese negotiators to work to conclude promptly a comprehensive high quality economic partnership agreement between Japan and India which will set an example for the world," said Mr. Abe. "I likewise urge the Indian side to give their support to enable the early conclusion of this agreement."

Later in the day the two prime ministers are expected to make an announcement on dedicated funding from Japan for India's most ambitious infrastructure project - a 2,800 kilometer rail freight corridor linking the capital with Mumbai and Kolkata.

In his address, Mr. Abe did not mention the controversial civil nuclear agreement between India and the United States. Opposition from leftist lawmakers to the deal is threatening the coalition government led by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Mr. Abe faces his own political troubles, suffering in the polls at home where he is seen as neglecting domestic social and economic issues at the expense of pushing his nationalistic vision for Japan.

The Japanese leader arrived in India on Monday after a visit to Indonesia. He will go to Malaysia on Thursday.

Mr. Abe's visit comes 50 years after that of then Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi - the current leader's grandfather and the first Japanese leader to visit India.

Mr. Kishi's 1957 trip cleared the way for Tokyo to begin making yen loans to India at a time when Japan was still struggling economically in wake of the devastation of the Second World War. By 1986 Japan was India's largest aid donor and has been ever since.

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