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Strategic peg for ties with Tokyo

New Delhi, April 29: A fortnight after China signed a 'strategic partnership' document with India, it was Japan's turn today to embark on a joint effort to usher in 'a new Asian era'.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said: 'If the 21st century was to become the century of Asia', India and Japan would have to build strong bonds that would help the two sides to work closely in all areas.

To give a 'strategic orientation to the global partnership' the two nations signed five years ago, Japan and India agreed on an eight-fold initiative.

Explicit in the document is Japan's recognition of India as a 'crucial' factor for the stability and progress of Asia. Six years ago, Tokyo was one of the worst critics of Indian nuclear tests.

The document is titled 'India-Japan partnership in the new Asian era: Strategic orientation of India-Japan global partnership', going one better than the 'strategic partnership for peace and prosperity' signed between Delhi and Beijing earlier this month.

Koizumi's visit comes in the wake of strains in Sino-Japanese ties with Beijing demanding an apology for its war crimes in China in the 1940s.

The document speaks of enhancing the dialogue architecture, comprehensive economic engagement, high-level security talks and science and technology cooperation.

The two countries also agreed to work closely with each other at the UN, where both are trying to get permanent seats in the security council. A Japanese official said Koizumi will try to persuade Pakistan to drop its opposition to India's candidature during his talks there tomorrow.

'Excellency, we believe that there has been a paradigm change in the political ambience of our relations in recent years,' Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said at the banquet he hosted for Koizumi at Hyderabad House.

Earlier, the two Prime Ministers and their respective delegations had a meeting.

Singh accepted Koizumi's invitation to visit Japan and recalled that he had been to the country 10 times. The dates will be worked out later.

India has been the biggest recipient of Japan's overseas development assistance and Tokyo had played a crucial role in helping to tide over the economic crisis of the early 1990s when Singh was the finance minister.

The Prime Minister did not miss the opportunity to recall such help even as he referred to the role played by Indian leaders, particularly Jawaharlal Nehru, in helping Japan find its place back in the world after World War II.

'It is thus only befitting that we have decided during your visit to add a new strategic focus to our global partnership and to deepen and widen our cooperation in the 'new Asian era',' he added.

The two countries decided to focus particularly on economic ties. They are looking at a 10-fold increase in trade from $4 billion in five years.

Japan will assist India in large infrastructure projects. One such is high-speed computerised freight trains between Delhi and Calcutta and Delhi and Mumbai. This will be part of the railway golden quadrilateral which will run parallel to the east-west, north-south road network being constructed.

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