Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi headed to Japan Thursday to seal a landmark nuclear energy pact and strengthen ties, as China's regional influence grows and Donald Trump's election throws US policies across Asia into doubt.
India, Japan and the US had been building security ties and holding three-way naval exercises, but Trump's "America First" campaign promise had stirred concern about a reduced US engagement in the region.
Such an approach by Washington could draw Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe even closer, said foreign policy commentator and former Indian ambassador M.K. Bhadrakumar.
Officials in New Delhi and Tokyo said a deal that will allow Japan to supply nuclear reactors, fuel and technology is ready for signing after six years of negotiations to find a way around Tokyo's reservations about such an agreement with a country that has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT].
India says the NPT is discriminatory and it has concerns about nuclear-armed China as well as its long-time rival Pakistan.
Japan, the only country to have suffered a nuclear attack, has been seeking assurances from New Delhi that it would not conduct nuclear tests any more.
Indian foreign ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup said the two sides had reached a broad agreement on nuclear collaboration as early as last December and had since been trying to finalize the document.
A "legal, technical scrub" of the agreed text has now been done, he said, but added that he could not pre-judge the outcome of Modi's summit talks with Abe over Friday and Saturday.
A Japanese ruling party lawmaker said the two sides will sign an agreement during Modi's visit. A Japanese foreign ministry spokesman declined to comment.
The nuclear agreement with Japan follows a similar one with the US in 2008 which gave India access to nuclear technology after decades of isolation.
That step was seen as the first big move to build India into a regional counterweight to China.
The two countries had also been trying to close a deal on the supply of amphibious rescue aircraft US-2 to the Indian navy, which would be one of Japan's first sales of military equipment since Abe lifted a 50-year ban on arms exports.
India's Defense Acquisitions Council met earlier this week to consider the purchase of 12 of the planes made by ShinMaywa Industries, but failed to reach a decision.
Source: News Agencies, Edited by website team