India, Japan close in on military pacts as Abe visits

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe waves as he departs for India at Tokyo's Haneda airport, Japan.
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe waves as he departs for India at Tokyo's Haneda airport, Japan.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO/NEW DELHI (REUTERS)- India and Japan are likely to finalise an agreement on protection of military information during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's trip beginning on Friday (Dec 11) that will the lay the ground for Japanese arms sales to India, including seaplanes.

Abe and his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, have forged close economic and defence ties aimed partly at pushing back against China's growing assertiveness in the region. Both are embroiled in territorial disputes with China.

Officials in Tokyo and New Delhi said the two sides were negotiating a defence technology transfer agreement and another on sharing of military information that are necessary before Japan can sell weapons to India and collaborate on military technology.

Japan is aiming to make progress on the two defence pacts during Abe's three-day visit, a Japanese foreign ministry official said in Tokyo. An Indian defence ministry official said the broad parameters of the framework agreement were in place.

India and Japan have been holding talks for two years on the purchase by India of US-2 amphibious aircraft made by ShinMaywa Industries, which will be one of Japan's first arms sales since Abe lifted a 50-year ban on weapon exports.

India wants two of the seaplanes off the shelf and the remaining 10 to be manufactured in India, with an Indian partner, as part of Modi's push to build a defence industrial base.

The Indian defence official said he did not expect the deal, estimated to be worth US$1.1 billion (S$1.6 billion), to be announced immediately.

Abe, making a third trip to India since he became prime minister, pledged stronger maritime ties, also involving its ally, the United States, in a three-way relationship that has irked China in the past.

"In order to maintain an open, free and peaceful sea, it becomes important more and more for there to be collaboration between Japan and India, as well as the international community including the US," he said in an article published in the Times of India.

Modi's cabinet this week cleared a US$14.7 billion Japanese proposal to build a bullet train line between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, giving Japan an early lead over China, which is conducting feasibility studies for high speed trains on other parts of the Indian rail network.