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SOURCE: HT

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is expected to visit India in either late April or early May as part of efforts to bolster cooperation across the Indo-Pacific to counter China’s aggressive actions, people familiar with developments said on Wednesday.

This would be the first visit by a top Japanese leader to India since the Covid-19 outbreak last year, and also the first since a planned summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his former Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe in Guwahati in December 2019 was called off because of protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

Modi and Suga have spoken several times on phone amid the pandemic and also participated in the first virtual summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad on March 12 along with US President Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Both India and Japan are committed to efforts to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific and this is expected to be a key part of the agenda for Suga’s visit, the people cited above said on condition of anonymity.

The exact dates for Suga’s visit are being finalised through diplomatic channels though a final decision will also hinge on the Covid-19 situation, the people said.

Like India, which has been engaged in a standoff with China on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) for almost a year, Japan has its own concerns over aggressive Chinese actions in the waters off Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

The joint statement issued after the Quad Summit has said the four members of the group will “facilitate collaboration, including in maritime security, to meet challenges to the rules-based maritime order in the East and South China Seas”.

Japan has invested ?1,600 crore in development projects across India’s northeastern states and is also working closely with India on infrastructure projects in third countries such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. India and Japan also signed the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) last September for reciprocal provision of supplies and services between their defence forces.

Suga, who will visit Washington for talks with Biden on April 16, is keen to bolster cooperation with the US, Australia and India to counter China’s growing assertiveness in the region, the people said. Suga is also expected to visit the Philippines, which too has been coping with China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea.