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Asia

India-Japan ties 'increasingly important'

With China looking to extend its influence and territorial control throughout the Asia-Pacific, Japanese PM Shinzo Abe and his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, are investing more in their bilateral alliance.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the chief guest an annual ceremony held on Sunday, January 26 in New Delhi to commemorate the anniversary of India becoming a republic in 1950. Sitting alongside Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pranab Mukherjee, Abe was the first Japanese leader ever to attend the event and watched intently as units of the Indian army held a march-past.

The position of honor extended to the Japanese leader underlines the growing importance both Tokyo and New Delhi place on their relationship across a range of areas, ranging from trade to energy, transportation links, new investment and tourism. Most critical to both nations, however, will to pose a united front against China.

India's President Pranab Mukherjee salutes as Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (4th R) looks on before heading towards the venue for the Republic Day parade, at India's presidential palace Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi January 26, 2014. Abe was the chief guest at India's Republic Day celebrations on Sunday.

Abe was the first Japanese PM ever to attend the anniversary

A day earlier, the two leaders had discussed the development of nuclear energy for civilian uses, with India showing inclination towards Japanese technology and know-how in the construction of new nuclear power plants.

During the visit, Abe also agreed to provide a loan of around 2 billion US dollars for the development of the New Delhi subway system. Moreover, there were talks on the co-production of Japanese US-2 amphibian aircraft in India, discussions on stepping up exchanges in the areas of science and technology, the provision of healthcare facilities and the commencement of a joint survey on the possible introduction of a high-speed railway link - based on Japan's bullet train technology - between Mumbai and Ahmadabad in western India.

'Key economic partners'

Describing Japan as a "key partner" in economic development, PM Singh told reporters that "the partnership between a strong and economically resurgent Japan and a transforming and rapidly growing India can be an effective force for good in the region.

An Indian army solider guards the Srinagar-Leh highway in Zojila Pass about 108 kms, 67 miles, east of Srinagar on April 6, 2013.

India has been in an unresolved dispute with China over its border in the Himalayas

But analysts say Abe's prime motivation for visiting was to reach an understanding and agreement over concerns surrounding security and defense matters. "Abe is very keen to strengthen this relationship with India and it is obvious that he is preparing for the coming confrontation with China," professor Kumao Kaneko, an expert on Japan-India ties at Tokai University, told DW.

"Both countries feel the threat posed by China and they have a lot of common ground, so these agreements that are being signed are very important in terms of mutual support," he said.

India has been involved in an unresolved dispute with China over its border in the Himalayas for many years, while New Delhi is also concerned at the military, economic and technological assistance Beijing is providing to Pakistan, with which it has several border disputes.

Tokyo, for its part, is locked in a stand-off over a group of uninhabited islands close off southern Japan. Tokyo says the islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China, are part of Japan. But since oil and natural resources were discovered beneath the seabed in waters around the islands, China has also laid claim to them.

Building alliances

Tokyo has the broad support of the United States in the dispute, but in a conscious bid to win more allies in the region Abe has reached out to other nations who similarly have a wary eye on China. Abe is scheduled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin for talks that coincide with the opening of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi in February, with defense cooperation expected to be high on the agenda.

In November, Abe visited Cambodia and Laos, the last of the 10 member states that make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for him to travel to in the first 11 months of his prime ministership.

In his meetings with leaders of other nations in the region, the Japanese leader has pointedly expressed his support for their respective positions in disputes with China over the sovereignty of island groups and large areas of the South China Sea.

Can India ensure stability?

And while some of these deals are not aimed directly at containing China, they are important in tying the two nations more closely to Japan and its bloc of supporters."I would hesitate to call this 'containment' of China, but Japan is clearly trying to put together a group of like-minded countries to cope with the threat that China poses to stability in the region," professor Kaneko said.

Minamikojima, Kitakojima and Uotsuri islands, part of the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which are known in China as Diaoyu and in Taiwan as Tiaoyutai.

Tensions between Japan and China have been mounting over a group of islands in the East China Sea

Go Ito, a professor of international relations at Tokyo's Meiji University, regards the agreement between the leaders on a series of naval drills between their two navies and the US military as a "division of labor for maritime security."

"India is the only country in the region with a large enough military capability to deter China," he said. "Other countries have shrinking military budgets, thus making the relationship between Tokyo and New Delhi increasingly important.

"India is a big country and has a role to play in ensuring stability," the analyst added. "And New Delhi is nervous as Beijing extends its reach beyond the South China Sea and into the Indian Ocean, bringing it into direct conflict with India's interests.