New Delhi, May 27: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh left here today on a two-nation five-day visit to Japan and Thailand aiming to give a "new meaning" to India's 'Look East' policy and hoping it will contribute to peace, prosperity and stability in the Asia-Pacific.
Singh, who flew to Tokyo, his first halt, described Japan as a "key regional and global partner for India"
In his departure statement, Singh said he proposed to invigorate India's relations with Japan in the political, security and energy spheres.
"My visits to Japan and Thailand will add depth and new meaning to our 'Look East' policy and contribute to peace, prosperity and stability in the Asia-Pacific," he said.
On a three-day visit to Tokyo, Singh will make a strong pitch for elevating strategic ties and push for a bilateral pact on civil nuclear energy cooperation.
Singh will hold exhaustive talks with his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe on Wednesday on the entire gamut of bilateral ties with special focus on giving boost to cooperation in defence, economic, energy and other areas.
"There is a growing congruence in our interest and I see this relationship as an essential component of our vision for enduring stability and prosperity in Asia," the Prime minister said.
Singh said in his summit with the new government of Japan led by "good friend" Abe, he will build on the momentum imparted by successive summits to the India-Japan Strategic and Global Partnership.
On the civil nuclear cooperation agreement, Singh, told Japanese reporters that there are problems in Japan and there are elections to the upper house in that country which will take place later this year.
"But, I do hope that we can make progress in the civil nuclear energy cooperation," he said.
"It will be my effort to use this visit to strengthen our strategic and global partnership, which also includes trying to reach an agreement with regard to civil nuclear energy cooperation," Singh said.
Negotiations for the civil nuclear cooperation agreement have not made much headway since Japan was struck by Fukushima nuclear disaster in March, 2011.
While Japan has backed the Indo-US nuclear deal and the exemptions given to India from international technology sanctions, successive governments in Tokyo have found the going tough in garnering political support for it in the face of stiff opposition from the non-proliferation lobby here.
Sale of nuclear equipment and technology by Japan to India have been hit by Tokyo's sensitivity over India's past atomic tests and persistent refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty on the ground that these were discriminatory.
Though India has put a moratorium on further nuclear testing, Japan is insisting on a clearer commitment from it. One of the aspects being debated is the consequences should India decide to carry out another test.
"There are a number of stages we will have to go through before we reach a signature," according to Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai, who said discussions on the civil nuclear cooperation agreement have been given "some impetus" recently.
Safety is one of the key issues from the Indian side in the negotiations for such a pact.
In his statement, Singh also said that, "We will explore ways to harness the full potential of our Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Partnership (CECP) by intensifying and balancing our two way trade and investment linkages".
The visit will also allow the two governments to take stock of the progress in flagship projects like the Western Dedicated Freight Corridor and the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, and to facilitate bilateral engagement for meaningful and mutually beneficial association.
Singh said he hopes to exchange views with Prime Minister Abe on important regional and global developments of shared interest
The Prime Minister noted that his visit to Japan for the annual bilateral summit got deferred last year due to impending last elections last year.
Singh also said he looks forward to meeting Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko.
He said both sides will use the visit to review overall Indo-Japan relations.
During the visit, Singh will also be interacting with leaders across the political spectrum in Japan, captains of Japanese industry and friends of India from all walks of life.
Singh also called on Japanese industry to contribute towards India's economic growth.
"I invite the business community of Japan to take full advantage of enormous opportunities at our opening up a liberalised Indian economy," he said, adding there is an "enormous" scope for Japanese companies to invest in India, particularly in manufacturing and clean and renewable energy.
"We require robust participation of Japanese business and Japanese industries in India's economic development. Today, we have more Japanese companies operating in India than ever before. But, in terms of their contribution to the Indian growth process, much needs to be done," he said.
India-Japan bilateral trade in 2011-12 reached USD 18.43 billion, showing an increase of 34.33 per cent over 2010-2011, when the total bilateral trade was USD 13.72 billion. India's exports to Japan grew by 24.36 per cent as against the growth of 40.20 per cent in its imports from Japan in 2011-12.
"We have plans to invest about USD 1 trillion in infrastructure in the 12th five-year plan; that is 2012-2017. And I see an enormous role for the Japanese industry to contribute not only to infrastructure development of India, but also to accelerate the tempo of the manufacturing sector in India's economy," Singh said.
"We have the shining example of Maruti Suzuki, but more such examples could be created. We would like to see Japanese investments in energy -- clean energy, renewable energy. We would like Japan to repeat what Japan has done for Delhi Metro Rail, we would like more such Metro Railways to come up in our metropolitan cities, and in all these areas I see enormous opportunities to strengthen cooperation between India and Japan," Singh said.
To help Japanese and other foreign investors, he said, India has set up the Cabinet Committee on Investments to look at bottlenecks that hampered growth of infrastructure sector.
"We have to increase the investment in infrastructure, which has been a big bottleneck, which has held up our growth process. We would like to remove these bottlenecks," he said, adding the Indian economy is to grow 6-6.5 per cent this financial year and could achieve an 8 per cent growth rate in next couple of years.
Singh will later travel to Bangkok for a two-day visit to Thailand.
Describing Thailand as an important "bilateral partner as well as a regional leader situated at the heart of ASEAN", Singh said he will carry forward the new dynamics in bilateral relations during his talks with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Thailand and India, Singh said, share centuries-old people-to-people, cultural and spiritual ties.
"Being maritime neighbours, we also share common interests in maritime security. Our defence and security cooperation with Thailand is progressing well and it will be my effort to further enhance it during my visit.
"As one of our top trade and investment partners in ASEAN, Thailand is an essential part of India's integration with the region," he said.
Thailand's importance to India is also underpinned by its potential as a hub of connectivity between India and Southeast Asia, Singh noted, adding that the Trilateral Highway project will connect "our Northeast with Thailand through Myanmar and create avenues for commercial and cultural interaction".
The Prime Minister said he intended to utilise the visit to re-emphasize India's commitment to building a stronger partnership with ASEAN.
"Thailand is also a key component of our sub-regional engagements in BIMSTEC and the Mekong Ganga Cooperation initiative," he added.
National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon, Pulok Chatterjee, Principal Secretary to Prime Minister, and other senior officials are accompanying Singh.