New Delhi, Oct 21: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday, Oct 21 embarked on a five-day visit to Japan and China with the assertion that a strong India-Japan relationship will play a significant role in the emerging Asian security architecture and will contribute to the peace, stability and prosperity of the whole region and the world.
In a departure statement, Dr Singh said he considered the ties with Japan to be one of the most important bilateral relationships for India. ''India and Japan are two major countries in Asia, sharing many similar interests and subscribing to common values,'' he said. Dr Singh will take part in the fourth annual summit-level exchange with his Japanese counterpart Taro Aso on Wednesday, Oct 22.
The global financial meltdown which is showing its ripple effects across global economies besides global condition in the areas of economy, energy, climate change and food security will dominate Dr Singh's engagement with Asian and European leaders during his visit to Japan and China.
Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon said Dr Singh's visit to Japan was attached with great importance in the light of growing ties between the two countries in recent years. This is his second visit to Japan as Prime Minister.
''India-Japan relations have undergone a significant and qualitative shift in recent years, propelled by the successful regular summit level exchanges since Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi visited India in April 2005.'' Mr Menon said the international economic situation would certainly figure at the discussion as ''it is a matter about which both of us have considerable interest.'' At the bilateral talks, Dr Singh and Mr Aso will review the progress of the initiatives already taken by both the countries and discuss measures to take them forward in a bid to broaden the bilateral relationship at all levels.
Dr Singh visited Japan in December 2006 and the third summit level meeting was held when Prime Minister Abe visited here in August 2007. '' Even though over the last four years there has been significant progress in all aspects of our bilateral relationship, there is still a lot of untapped potential that remains to be realised,'' the Prime Minister said.
Describing Japan as an important economic partner for India, he said the second meeting of the India-Japan Business Leaders Forum will be held on the sidelines of his visit.
Dr Singh would also address a gathering of Japan's business leaders being organised by the Nippon Keidanren. Trade and investment between India and Japan is expected to touch 15 billion US dollars this year. Both the countries have set a target of 20 billion US dollars for 2010.
India is the single largest recipient of Japanese Official Development Assistance (ODA), constituting 30 per cent of its total ODA.
The Prime Minister would also call on Japanese Emperor Akhito and Empress Michiko on October 22.
He would have a breakfast meeting with former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori in the morning of October 23. He would later addresss a meeting of Japan-India Association and Japan-India Parliamentary Friendship Association.
Dr Singh said after his visit to Japan, he would be travelling to Beijing on October 23 to attend the seventh Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM-7) at Beijing the next day. This will be India's first participation in ASEM at the summit level after it joined the grouping of 45 countries, which includes Pakistan.
''This will be the first time India will be participating in an ASEM Summit. Our participation in this Summit is a natural corollary of our close and growing ties with countries in Asia and Europe,'' he said.
'This meeting is set against a special global condition in the areas of economy, energy, climate change and food security,'' Mr N Ravi, Joint Secretary (East) in the External Affairs Ministry, said, while adding that the summit was expected to achieve more consensus on these issues.
Mr Ravi said India's association with ASEM would help the country in many ways as 50 per cent of India's trade is with ASEM countries.
Asked if Dr Singh would hold discussions with Pakistan Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani on the sidelines of ASEM, Mr Ravi said no such meeting had been finalised so far. Since leaders from 40 countries are attending the summit, there were many requests for a meeting with Dr Singh.
On the margins of the ASEM Summit, in addition to meeting President Hu Jintao, the Prime Minister would also have the opportunity to meet with other world leaders, including President Purvanov of Bulgaria, President Enkhbayar of Mongolia, Chancellor Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister Berlusconi of Italy and Prime Minister Nguyan Tan Dung of Vietnam.
Dr Singh would return here in the evening of October 25.