The year 2022 marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and India. The entire year will be marked by celebratory events. This is an opportunity to reminisce, be mindful of the present and envision our future. It gives me pleasure that we can celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Independence of India and the 70th anniversary of Japan-India diplomatic relations together.
Formal relations between Japan and India began in 1952. After the Second World War, instead of signing the multilateral San Francisco Peace Treaty, India opted for concluding a bilateral peace treaty with Japan, considering that honour and equality should be ensured for Japan to rejoin the international community. This is the cornerstone of our long-standing friendship. But even before the establishment of diplomatic relations, the goodwill between the people of the two countries was deeply rooted through business, academic and cultural exchanges. In 1951, when India hosted the first Asian Games in New Delhi, it invited Japanese athletes. This was one of the first occasions where the Japanese flag was hoisted after WWII. This experience soothed the minds of Japanese people who were struggling to rebuild their country. After 70 years of multi-layered exchanges, the relationship between our two countries grew into a “Special Strategic and Global Partnership”. Our partnership is based on a deep respect for each other’s contributions in promoting peace, stability and development in Asia and beyond. I am proud that today, especially under the leadership of both prime ministers, we recognise each other as natural partners to work together for a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP)” and various other global issues.
We also have a long history of people-to-people exchanges that can be traced back to the sixth century. Buddhism was brought to Japan and, in 752, an Indian monk, Bodhisena, performed the consecration ceremony for the Great Buddha Statue at Todai-ji, which is one of the most important temples in Japan. Fast-forward to the Meiji Restoration in the late 19th Century — Japan needed natural resources to modernise its industry. Many Japanese travelled to India to purchase cotton, iron ore, etc. The exchanges among artists should also be mentioned. This includes an interaction between the Nobel Laureate in literature, Rabindranath Tagore and Okakura Tenshin, a Japanese philosopher.
The 70th anniversary is based on the theme “building a future for our centenary.” This is the mantra that will guide us this year. The message is that we will together create our future and propel ourselves towards the 100th-anniversary landmark and beyond. I strongly believe that the future offers enormous possibilities for our partnership.
First, we, as democratic countries in Asia, can cooperate to contribute to global peace and prosperity. We share political, economic and strategic interests based on the firm foundations of common values and traditions. We are continuing our efforts to build a rules-based free and open international order. There are a plethora of fields that we can cooperate in security issues including cyber security, outer space and economic security.
Second, our economic relations can be further augmented. For long, Japan has been the largest ODA (Official Development Assistance) donor to India. One of the most recent and ongoing examples of our collaboration is the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail project. Japan is also one of the largest investors in India. Both countries have also promoted economic cooperation in other countries to enhance social infrastructure and connectivity. Our economic partnership can further strengthen the economy of the Indo-Pacific, as well as the world economy.
Third, cultural exchanges including literature, movies, music, sports and academics are essential for our relations, enabling a better understanding. I am delighted to hear that the number of Japanese learners is increasing in India. I firmly believe that these young, ignited minds of our countries will be the foundation of an even stronger friendship in the future.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, our ties continue to flourish. Even though the number of in-person interactions may have been impacted, this in no way does this imply that our ties have weakened. Our long history substantiates that. Our common vision for the future will never be affected. We can strengthen our partnership even during the pandemic by utilising digital technology as a facilitator of new and innovative methods to stay in touch with each other. I would like to conclude by extending my best wishes for this special year 2022. I hope it turns out to be memorable for our countries and people.
This column first appeared in the print edition on January 18, 2022 under the title ‘A natural partnership’. The writer is Ambassador of Japan to India
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