NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called on Wednesday for a “broader Asia” partnership of democracies that would include India, the United States and Australia, but omit the region’s superpower, China.
Abe’s comments came in an address to a joint session of India’s parliament at the start of a visit that aims to boost trade between Asia’s largest and third largest economies, and counter China’s growing strength.
“This partnership is an association in which we share fundamental values such as freedom, democracy and respect for basic human rights as well as strategic interests,” Abe 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.”
His speech did not mention China in relation to the “broader Asia”. While Abe has improved ties with Beijing, he has also stressed the need to forge closer links with democracies in what analysts have called a tacit criticism of Beijing.
Tokyo’s navy is due to take part for the first time in U.S.-India exercises in the Bay of Bengal next month.
India also used the visit of Abe and 200 businessmen to woo investors for infrastructure projects ranging from transport to nuclear power.
New Delhi is aiming to seal an economic partnership agreement — expected to include a free-trade accord — by the end of this year, Indian Trade Minister Kamal Nath said. Abe pledged to double bilateral trade to $20 billion by 2010.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is facing a political crisis because leftist allies are trying to block a civilian nuclear deal with the United States that the government says is crucial for India’s economic development.
The communists say the government should not push ahead with the deal which will entail talks with the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) of which Japan is a member.
“My sincere hope is that when the matter comes forth to the Nuclear Suppliers Group that we will have the support of the Japanese government,” Singh told a joint news conference.
The Japanese premier said he understood the plans of India — armed with atomic weapons — to use nuclear energy to cope with global warming and help meet its fast-growing economy’s demand for power.
“But, at the same time, as the only nation to suffer an atomic bombing, we attach special importance to nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament,” Abe said.
“From that perspective we have to carefully look at its effect on the nuclear non-proliferation framework.”
India’s poor transport network and frequent power shortages are the Achilles’ heel of its economy, hindering its ability to compete with China.
Tokyo is considering offering low-interest loans to help build a high-speed freight rail link between New Delhi and Mumbai as well as funds for a $90 billion industrial corridor between the two cities, Japanese officials said.
“These projects are critical to India’s aspirations of wresting the manufacturing space that at present is dominated by China,” said a report prepared by KPMG consultancy group and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.