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Indian Prime Minister Proposes Closer Ties with Japan


Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called for India and Japan, Asia's two largest democracies, to construct an "arc of advantage and prosperity" across the continent. Analysts have said the two countries are interested in forming closer ties to counterbalance the growing economic and political might of China. VOA's Steve Herman reports from Tokyo, where Mr. Singh addressed a joint session of the Japanese parliament on Thursday.

At present, India accounts for only one percent of Japan's total trade, although it is the largest recipient of Japanese aid. Japanese businessmen would like increased access to India's billion-plus population, and Mr. Singh told Japanese lawmakers Thursday that India would be happy to accommodate them.

"Economic ties must be the background of our relationship, and a strong push is needed in this area," Singh said. "Our trade and investment ties are well below potential. This must change."

Mr. Singh came to Japan with more than simple economics in mind, however. New Delhi and Washington have just completed a controversial deal in which the U.S. will provide India with fuel and technology for India's peacetime energy program. But that agreement is subject to the approval of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, of which Japan is a member.

After India carried out nuclear weapons tests in 1998, Japan imposed economic sanctions on the country. The Indian leader, noting both countries' growing requirements for energy, indirectly asked Japan on Thursday to forget the past, and approve the U.S. deal.

"Like Japan, India sees nuclear power as a viable and clean energy source to meet its growing energy requirements," he said.

He also and said the two must cooperate in assuring the security of energy supplies.

"We have, therefore, an equal stake in promoting defense cooperation, including the protection of sea lanes to secure our trade and energy flows," he said.

Mr. Singh barely mentioned China, except to note that China's trade with India is two times that of Japan's. He alluded to the mainland's growing might, however, speaking of the "changed international scenario," and he emphasized the values that separate China's totalitarianism from the Japanese and Indian democracies.

"We are two major Asian countries who share the universally respected values of freedom, democracy, respect for fundamental human rights and commitment to the rule of law," Singh said.

He said India and Japan must draw on these values to build "a strong partnership of the highest mutual importance."