Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived in New Delhi yesterday to push for closer commercial and strategic ties with India, as Tokyo seeks to offset Beijing's growing regional might.
Since coming to power in 2012 Abe has trotted the globe, partly in his self-appointed role as salesman for Japan Inc., but also to seek counterweights to superpower China.
Abe, received at the airport by Indian government officials, told The Times of India daily in an interview published yesterday that he wants to "develop vigorously" economic and security cooperation with India.
Abe's trip comes as Japan and China are locked in a bitter territorial row over islands in the East China Sea that Asia's two largest economies both claim.
The Japanese prime minister urged Beijing on Friday to come to the table for "vital" summit talks, after being quoted as comparing current Japan-China relations with ties between Germany and Britain before the outbreak of World War One.
Abe told the Times of India the "security environment of the Asia-Pacific region is becoming ever more severe". Japan fears China is seeking to exert control over key shipping lanes around its vast coastline.
Japan and India, already carrying out joint maritime exercises, "play a vital role together for the security of sea lanes," Abe said.
India, which has its own simmering Himalayan border row with China that erupted into a brief, bloody war in 1962, has said all "regional issues" including tensions with Beijing would be discussed.
India too has been working to boost relations with Japan, Thailand, Vietnam and other Asian nations as it seeks to offset rival Beijing's rise.
"We hope the visit will lead to a deepening and strengthening of our strategic and global partnership," Indian foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said ahead of Abe's trip.
His visit follows the first official trip to India last month by Japan's emperor and empress, billed by New Delhi as a "landmark" goodwill symbol.
Abe will be "chief guest" at India's Republic Day parade today that showcases it's military might and cultural richness.