India and Japan yesterday vowed to push for an economic partnership agreement by December, as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged New Delhi to join Tokyo in the creation of an Asian "arc of freedom."
Abe, in India on a three-day visit, called for a "broader Asia" partnership of democracies that would include India, the US and Australia, but leave out the region's superpower, China.
Abe's comments came in an address to a joint session of India's parliament, at the start of a high-profile visit that aims to boost trade between Asia's largest and third-largest economies and counter China's growing strength.
About 200 businessmen are accompanying Abe on the visit.
Abe laid out his vision for a new four-way "arc of freedom and prosperity" bringing together Australia, India, Japan and the US.
"This partnership is an association in which we share fundamental values such as freedom, democracy and respect for basic human rights as well as strategic interests," Abe told lawmakers and diplomats in a speech that did not name China.
"By Japan and India coming together in this way, this `broader Asia' will evolve into an immense network spanning the entirety of the Pacific Ocean, incorporating the United States of America and Australia," he said.
While Abe has improved ties with China, which frayed under his predecessor, he has also stressed the need to forge closer links with democracies in what analysts have said was a tacit criticism of Beijing.
Tokyo has sought to build closer security ties with the US, Australia and India, and its navy is due to take part for the first time in joint US-India exercises to be held in the Bay of Bengal next month.
But in a sign that New Delhi was keen not to upset China -- which is likely to soon be its biggest trade partner -- Indian Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon warned on Monday against a "zero sum game" with Beijing.
The trip, however, was not just about politics.
India was using the visit to woo much-needed investment to build infrastructure projects from transport to nuclear power.
The sheer size of the Japanese business delegation -- outstripping a recent Abe trip to the Middle East -- testified to the importance of business ties.
India's poor transport network and frequent power shortages are seen as hindering its ability to compete with its major global competitor, China.
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