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Japanese Prime Minister Visits India to Forge Closer Economic, Security Ties

The leaders of India and Japan are to hold wide-ranging discussions to enhance business ties and security cooperation during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's three-day visit to New Delhi and Kolkata which starts Tuesday. VOA's Steve Herman in New Delhi reports on the growing ties between the two powers.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives with 200 Japanese business leaders just as India and Japan hope to triple total annual two-way trade by the end of the decade.

Japan is to fund India's most ambitious infrastructure projects - high-tech trade and freight corridors to span the country's two largest cities: New Delhi and Mumbai.

Japan is also to join a four-nation naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal, following Mr. Abe's visit. And the Japanese defense minister will visit India later this week.

On Wednesday Mr. Abe is to address a joint session of India's parliament - a privilege not accorded to the presidents of the United States or China last year.

Some analysts interpret this rapid warming of ties as a reflection of both India and Japan's desire to counter the growing influence of China in international relations.

Indian Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon, however, cautions against a simplistic view of changing alliances.

"I don't think our relations with Japan are at the cost of our relations with China or that our relations with China are at the cost of our relations with Japan," he said.

China is Japan's largest trading partner and Indians routinely benchmark their economic progress and stature on the world stage against China. At the same time, China is watching the growing maritime security cooperation among India, the United States, Japan and Australia.

This visit by Mr. Abe follows that made to Tokyo last December by his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh.

Beyond the security ties are hard economic discussions.

On the subject of the economic corridors, Japanese sources say Tokyo is concerned that route selection is unduly influenced by domestic political considerations and that costs are spiraling out of control. The project is already expected to cost around $100 billion.

Foreign Secretary Menon says it is premature to speculate about such differences ahead of a report due in October.

"Much of that has to await a feasibility report. I mean that is what the report is supposed to do - to sort that out, to decide which bits are feasible, which are not, which costs are reasonable, which are not," he said. "So I don't think we're still at the stage where anybody is balking or not. We're still at the stage of actually designing this project."

The two countries also remain far apart on a proposed free trade agreement, similar to that just signed by Mr. Abe with Indonesia. Despite three meetings since March, Indian trade officials say there is no common ground yet on how extensive such a pact should be.