Japan and India will work toward an agreement on nuclear energy cooperation during a visit this week by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as Tokyo tries to boost exports of atomic technology and other infrastructure to help revive the economy.
"I do hope that we can make progress in civil nuclear energy cooperation," Kyodo News Service quoted Singh as telling reporters in New Delhi on Saturday.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is eager to promote sales of Japanese nuclear technology as part of Japan's push to expand exports, especially in emerging markets in Asia and the Middle East that offer stronger growth potential than at home, without the political tensions that plague Tokyo's dealings with mainland China.
Earlier this month, Japan and India signed a set of agreements on economic cooperation and investment, including multibillion-dollar plans for industrial corridors between New Delhi and Mumbai, and between Chennai and Bangalore. The two sides are also expected to discuss closer military ties.
Singh originally had planned his visit for late last year. He postponed it due to a parliamentary election in December that returned Abe's Liberal Democratic Party to power. The Indian prime minister arrives in Tokyo on Monday and departs Thursday.
Despite both sides' hopes for closer ties, trade between Japan and India has not yet taken off. Japan's exports to India fell nearly 5 percent in the fiscal year that ended in March to 842.1 billion yen ($8.25 billion) — one-thirteenth of the amount Japan shipped to China — while imports rose 4.5 percent from a year earlier to 579.1 billion yen ($5.7 billion), according to Japanese figures.
But with India due to invest about $1 trillion in infrastructure in 2012-2017, Singh said he sees an "enormous role" for Japanese industry in helping build up his country's manufacturing sector.
Highlighting that focus, Singh is due to address Japan's powerful Keidanran business group during his stay in Tokyo, said India's foreign secretary, Ranjan Mathai.
He said the two sides would also discuss possible exports of Japan's high-speed rail technology.
Japan's sales to India of nuclear equipment and technology have been hampered by sensitivity in Japan over India's past atomic tests and refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
India has announced a moratorium on further nuclear testing, but Japan also wants a clearer commitment from New Delhi. The two sides are also working to decide on consequences should India conduct another nuclear test.
Discussions with Japan on nuclear technology are only at the "very preliminary stage," Mathai said, adding that India hopes to see progress on an agreement later in the year.
Japan's nuclear power plants are mostly stalled at home due to safety concerns following the March 2011 disaster in Fukushima. So big companies like Hitachi Ltd., Toshiba Corp. and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries are desperate to offset lost business at home through sales overseas.
It's a lucrative prospect, given the dozens of nuclear reactors due to be constructed worldwide in coming years. The pro-nuclear Liberal Democrats also contend that Japan should restart reactors closed down for tightened safety checks to help keep the industry internationally competitive.
Japan's first nuclear export deal since the March 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant came during a visit by Abe to Turkey, which chose a Japanese-French partnership to build a nuclear reactor on its Black Sea coast.
The two sides also signed a nuclear cooperation agreement, as Abe reassured his hosts that Japan has learned from the disaster and is offering technology with the highest safety standards.
During that overseas tour, Abe also signed nuclear agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. He is also aiming at nuclear exports to Eastern Europe, with local reports saying he plans to visit Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia in June.