NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Japan on Saturday seeking to capitalise on his affinity with Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe to strengthen security and business ties on his first major foreign visit since his landslide election victory in May.
Modi is one of only three people that Abe follows on Twitter, while the Indian leader admires the Japanese premier’s brand of nationalist politics.
“We will explore how Japan can associate itself productively with my vision of inclusive development in India,” Modi said before departing on Saturday for the five-day visit.
He listed manufacturing, infrastructure and energy as key areas for cooperation. In his previous role as chief minister of India’s fast-growing western state of Gujarat Modi had actively courted Japanese investment.
Modi, 63, is embarking on an intense month of diplomacy in which he will receive Chinese President Xi Jinping before meeting U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington as he seeks to carve out a stronger role for India as a global player.
In Japan, he will lobby for Abe to back a nuclear energy pact, although hopes of striking a similar accord to one reached with the United States in 2008 had faded in the run-up to the visit.
Japan wants explicit guarantees from India, which has not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, to limit atomic tests and allow closer inspection of its facilities to ensure that spent fuel is not used to make bombs.
Speaking to Japanese reporters, Modi addressed those concerns: “Our track record of non-proliferation is impeccable,” he said, adding that India would uphold a “unilateral and voluntary” moratorium on explosive nuclear weapons testing.
Also under discussion will be a proposal to formalise a ‘Two Plus Two’ format for talks bringing together the foreign and defence ministers of both countries, reflecting shared concerns about an increasingly assertive China.
Modi was due to attend a dinner with Abe on Saturday evening in Kyoto, a city the Indian leader associates with a Buddhist heritage shared by both Japan and India.
Modi also hopes that Kyoto will serve as a template for his vision of building 100 ‘smart’ cities in India - and to develop the ancient Indian holy city of Varanasi on the river Ganges that he represents in parliament.
At his next stop in Tokyo, Modi will seek to drum up the inward investment he needs to bring to life the appeal to “Come, make in India” he made in a speech this month to mark India’s independence day.
India, Asia’s third-largest economy after China and Japan, needs faster economic growth to create work for the one million young people who enter the workforce every month.
In early steps, Modi has allowed foreign investors to own 100 percent of railway projects with an eye to drumming up interest in building India’s answer to Japan’s high-speed ‘bullet’ trains. He is also courting Japanese investment in an ambitious industrial “corridor” to run between Delhi and Mumbai.
Japan’s Honda Motor Co Ltd, Suzuki Co Ltd, Sony Corp and Toyota Motor Corp are household names in India. Yet, India accounts for only 1.2 percent of Japan’s total outward foreign direct investment.
“Companies in Japan have been considering India over the last two, three years very actively, but probably the political environment was a little tricky,” said Harish H.V., a partner and head of corporate finance at advisory firm Grant Thornton.
“Now that we have a new government which is considered pro-investment, ideally it’s a good time.”
Additional reporting by Sanjeev Miglani in New Delhi and Sumeet Chatterjee in Mumbai; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore