Japan raises the bar for Manmohan!

Tokyo, May 29 (IANS) Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is getting special treatment in Tokyo during his three-day visit to Japan. For instance, the lunch hosted by the emperor and the empress for Manmohan Singh and his wife, Gursharan Kaur, at the Imperial Palace was "very much extraordinary".

"This is not usual. Their majesties do not host non-heads of states. Technically, the Indian prime minister is not India's head of state. But in his case, they have done that," a senior Japanese functionary said.

"The proposed visit of the emperor and the empress later this year to India is significant, given their age (which restricts their travel). Nothing indicates more importantly the significance of the bilateral relationship of the two countries," he added.

Japanese officials here are also upbeat about the private dinner hosted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for the visiting dignitary and his wife.

"This is the most relaxed and casual meeting that Prime Minister Abe had ever since taking over," the official said.

On Abe's remarks about his Indian counterpart, the official said: "The import of the remarks was that I like you."

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No show in media

If the Indian delegation was hoping that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit would be a high-profile one, especially in the Japanese media, they were left disappointed.

For the first two days of the visit, Manmohan Singh hardly got any coverage. One newspaper dismissed his address to the Japanese business community "in brief". Others too hardly gave any worthwhile coverage.

Asked why the Japanese media had not paid much attention to the Indian prime minister's visit, senior official Tonohika Taniguchi said (with a laugh): "I am angry about it."

He tried to justify it by saying that the expectation from the bilateral summit was not much earlier, especially among Japanese bureaucrats. But the way that both prime ministers showed warmth towards each other changed a lot of things. Only, the media here did not get the message.

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'Not making headlines'

The growing cooperation between India and Japan naturally brought the focus on whether the posturing of both countries was vis-a-vis China. The question cropped up more than twice during a media interaction of a senior Japanese functionary. His instant response with a smile was: "I am not making headlines here. You may want me to say something big on this but I will not do that."

Though not evasive on the China issue, the functionary remained guarded. He even refused to draw comparisons of the India-China land dispute with the Japan-China Senkaku islands dispute. He said that China's violation of the waters around the island was almost on a daily basis.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)

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