National / Politics

Abe postpones talks with India's Modi due to unrest in Assam over citizenship law

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has postponed a three-day visit to India, the government said Friday, as violent protests continue over a controversial citizenship law in Gauhati, a northeastern Indian city in Assam state where Abe had planned to meet his counterpart, Narendra Modi.

In the city, mobs have been clashing with police, reportedly leaving at least two dead and 11 others injured. According to local reports, an indefinite curfew has been imposed.

Abe was due to leave Tokyo on Sunday.

Modi had invited Abe to Gauhati to hold a summit and joint news conference.

The two leaders were to discuss security issues and economic development plans for the state, located near Bangladesh and Myanmar.

“Receiving reports of the local situation, we have decided to postpone” the trip, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.

Abe will reschedule the trip “to a time convenient for both sides,” but nothing concrete has been decided yet, he said.

The citizenship law, drafted by Modi’s government, seeks to grant Indian nationality to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs who fled Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan before 2015, but not to Muslims.

Thousands of locals in Assam have protested on the streets, fearing that the law could draw a flood of foreign migrants. Meanwhile, critics claim Modi’s Hindu-centric government is trying to discriminate against Muslims through the law.

On the bilateral security front, Tokyo and New Delhi are now negotiating to conclude a pact that would allow the military forces of the two countries to exchange logistical materials and services during a joint exercise.

Officials had continued negotiations so that the two leaders could agree to conclude an Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement during the now-canceled summit in Gauhati.

Tokyo has been trying to strengthen diplomatic and defense ties with New Delhi to keep China in check.

Last month, the two countries held a so-called two-plus-two meeting of defense and foreign ministers. They agreed to conduct a joint fighter exercise and accelerate talks to conclude the ACSA.

During the trip, Abe also planned to travel together with Modi to Imphal, the capital of Manipur state, and pay a visit to a memorial hall for the 1941 Battle of Imphal.

The battle, which is often described as one of the most poorly planned and “reckless” operations of the Imperial Japanese Army, left more than 30,000 Japanese soldiers dead.

Abe had been also expected to urge Modi to reverse his earlier decision to pull out of negotiations over the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership free trade talks, but experts say Modi was unlikely to budge, fearing damage to India’s domestic industries.

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