The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi on Japan list, Pak off

New Delhi, Jan. 3: Japanese foreign minister Oriko Kawaguchi, who arrives here early next week, has left Pakistan out of her South Asia tour. Instead, she has decided to visit Sri Lanka after her consultations with the Indian leadership.

The Japanese decision has gone down well with the Indian establishment, which sees this as an opportunity to improve and strengthen relations with Tokyo — a major aid donor and a key international player with whom Delhi wants to establish close ties.

Kawaguchi arrives on a two-day official visit on January 7 during which she is expected to have wide-ranging discussions with the senior members of the Vajpayee government.

Her main interaction will be with foreign minister Yashwant Sinha, but indications are that she will also get an opportunity to meet other officials in South Block, including national security adviser Brajesh Mishra and foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal. She may also call on Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee.

Though India and Japan have identified each other as important players in the international arena, bilateral relations, particularly at the political level, have not reached the desired level. A brief attempt to boost ties was made during Prime Minister Yoshihiro Mori’s visit, but he did not last long in the post and the relations turned lukewarm.

One of the main reasons has been Japan’s South Asia policy of trying to maintain parity in dealings with India and Pakistan. Delhi has seen this as Tokyo’s attempt to “hyphenate” ties between the hostile neighbours.

Despite India’s dissatisfaction over such attempts, Japan rarely made any move, either on the nuclear issue or on terrorism, to separately look at its relations with India and Pakistan.

But in Kawaguchi’s decision, India sees an opportunity for both sides to pave the way for closer and stronger ties. The Indian leadership wants Japan to use its leverage with Pakistan to ensure that the Musharraf regime fulfils its international commitment of stopping cross-border terrorism.

Japan, on the other hand, wants to play a bigger role in Sri Lanka. The Norwegian initiative notwithstanding, Tokyo is keen to do something more meaningful, especially in the field of economic development, to help end the decades-old ethnic conflict on the island-nation.

Kawaguchi is scheduled to leave for Colombo on January 8 to hold talks with the Lankan leadership.

One of the reasons for the Japanese foreign minister’s decision to bypass Islamabad stems from recent reports about the clandestine cooperation between Pakistan and North Korea on nuclear and missile programmes. Tokyo’s aversion to nuclear weapons is well known, so is its concerns about North Korea.

Kawaguchi’s forthcoming meetings with Indian leaders will provide the two sides with a chance to iron out much of their differences and reach a position to better understand and appreciate each other’s concerns.

“It is wrong to describe Japan as Pakistan-centric. But in the past, it has shown a lack of sensitivity to our security concerns,” a senior Indian official said. Though Japan has described India as a “strategic partner”, so far Tokyo has not really acknowledged Delhi as an emerging world power. However, the two sides are now keen to clear the air and create an atmosphere where at the political, economic and military level they can closely work with each other.

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