TOKYO -- Japan and India inked a contentious nuclear cooperation agreement Friday that allows Japan to export its nuclear power plants, along with a separate document stating the Japanese government will suspend cooperation if India carries out nuclear weapons tests.
This is the only such agreement Japan currently has with a country that is a non-signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The agreement was a prerequisite for Japanese companies to export nuclear technology to India, and Tokyo believes the "nullification clause" in the separate document will safeguard its stance on nuclear nonproliferation.
"The agreement is a legal framework to ensure that India acts responsibly for the peaceful use of nuclear energy," Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at a joint news conference following the bilateral summit and the signing of the deal.
"It will also have India participate substantially in the international nonproliferation regime," Abe said. "This is exactly in line with Japan's position in promoting nonproliferation, aiming to create a world without nuclear weapons."
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose three-day visit to Japan began Thursday, stressed the agreement will help India reduce its reliance on fossil fuels by expanding the country's nuclear energy industry. "The agreement marks a historical step in our engagement to build a clean energy partnership," he said.
The world's fastest growing large economy suffers from chronic power shortages and seeks to lift its nuclear generating capacity more than tenfold by 2032 and to get 25% of its electricity from nuclear power by 2050. India currently operates 21 nuclear reactors and aims to increase that number by around 40 over the next 20 years.
Japan sees itself as a leader in nuclear nonproliferation. But the government has made an exception in dealing with nuclear-armed India, hoping the agreement will benefit Japan's nuclear plant builders, which have few prospects at home following the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
The Indian government is in advanced talks with Toshiba's U.S. nuclear power unit, Westinghouse Electric, to build six nuclear reactors in southern India. But the transfer of the reactors could not go ahead without the nuclear deal.
The Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were hit with U.S. atomic bombs at the end of World War II. Given that history, the Japanese public is very leery of the nuclear deal. The mayors of the two cities strongly criticized the pact when it was agreed to last year.
Abe and Modi, meanwhile, reaffirmed the importance of the rule of law at sea, aiming to counterbalance China's expanding presence in the East and South China seas, as well as in the Indian Ocean.
The two leaders also discussed India's high-speed railway plan, for which Japan has already secured a shinkansen bullet-train order to serve the Mumbai and Ahmedabad route. They finalized the schedule for the line's construction, which will begin in 2018 and is scheduled to go into service by 2023. Abe expressed hope that India will adopt the shinkansen for the remaining six routes as well.