Ties between India and Japan are probably at their best ever, Japanese Ambassador to India H.E. Kenji Hiramatsu told India Review & Analysis’ Nilova Roy Chaudhury, as he outlined how the two countries have moved closer. Ahead of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit.
Ambassador Hiramatsu spoke of how both countries have come together to promote bilateral and regional prosperity. Coming out in unequivocal support of India’s stand in the ongoing standoff with China, Hiramatsu has emerged as the Indian establishment’s favourite envoy.
Excerpts from an interview with Nilova Roy Chowdhury, Editor, INDIA REVIEW & ANALYSIS, the fortnightly publication of the Society for Policy Studies (SPS):
Q: India is celebrating 70 years of its Independence this month. How would you describe the current status of India-Japan Relations? Are they the best ever?
A: Yes, I think it is the best time for the India Japan relationship. When PM Modi visited Japan in September 2014, it was announced that our relationship will be a Special Strategic and Global Partnership- not only traditional ties in trade, investment and economies, but also in the sphere of defence and security our cooperation has been expanding. I see now the best moment with regard to relationship which is expanding in various levels of societies of two countries. The relationship between PM Modi and Prime Minister Abe is really excellent and they share the strategic values. They feel that our relationship is vital for each country’s development and prosperity and also for the entire region’s security and prosperity, and also global peace and stability. This kind of a very strong confidence between two the leaders gets truly reflected in many areas of cooperation. We have a reciprocal annual visit of the PMs. They have been sharing many experiences on strategic issues and also bilateral cooperation projects. PM Abe will come to India later this year and have another round of cooperative and strategic discussions.
Q: Would you define the India Japan relationship as the bedrock of the 21st century Asia- centric world order?
A: India is a large, growing economy with a huge, young, talented population. I am sure that India will become an important economic power and also play an important role in the peace and stability in this region and globally. Japan has a very well established technology and financing available for supporting a developing, emerging country like India. This bilateral relationship will help each country’s prosperity and development. This bilateral cooperation is very important especially in the economic sphere, for India to bring technology in the future.
Strategically, now the situation surrounding our two countries is changing rapidly and we are going into a rather volatile and unpredictable world. Our two countries getting together especially for maintaining peace and stability by upholding democracy, rule of law can contribute to more rule-based stable international order, especially in Asia. PM Abe is always advocating the importance of these basic values like rule of law and democracy. If two big countries in Asia are trying to promote these basic values, this will promote stability.
When PM Abe came to power in 2007 in his first term, he made a very important speech on ‘Confluence of the two seas’- that means importance of more cooperation between countries located in the Pacific and Indian Oceans in the economic and security sphere.
India is located in an important part of Indian Ocean and Japan is located in an important part of western part of the Pacific Ocean. The two countries are working together to ensure freedom of navigation and safety and also to ensure closer trade and investment ties. That will be important for stability not only for India and Japan but for the entire region.
Q: When you speak of rule based order, is that intended to send a message to certain countries?
A: These are universally shared values. No country can oppose these universal values especially rule-based values like freedom of navigation, over-flight and no country can change the status quo by force. Documents made by international conferences and leaders, ministers have emphasised the importance of these values. It is not targeted against certain countries. Japan as a country really gives importance to these global rule-based values. That is why India is a very good partner for us, as India has a long record of abiding by international rules.
Q: Have the government of India and Japan been discussing OBOR (One Belt One Road) to enhance practical ways in which to work, as India opposes CPEC?
A: Japan and India are strategic partners, so we can discuss anything in a very frank manner. Of course we have been talking infrastructure programmes including OBOR and we know India’s strong position about CPEC and respect it very well.
Japan and India are working very closely and these principles (need for transparency and sound financial health of recipient countries) are very similar to what India is saying. Lot of synergy, similarity exists between India and Japan in their approach to infrastructure development projects in this region.
Q: August is a sad month in terms of the history of Japan, because of events in 1945. But despite strong anti-nuclear sentiments, Japan has made an exception in allowing civil nuclear cooperation with India.
A: Japanese people have a very strong feeling against nuclear weapons for obvious reasons. Many compatriots lost their lives in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 72 years ago. We should remember it forever.
At the same time, how to ensure economic prosperity source of energy is also very important. We are trying to make energy sources –whether hydropower, renewables, or even nuclear energy available. I know India would be interested in upgrading nuclear power plants and having more of them. Of course there is lot of debate in Japan over the civil nuclear cooperation. I have to admit that, as India is a nuclear state and Japan has a very strong anti –nuclear feeling so how to reconcile the two is not easy thing to do.
We have a strong bilateral relationship and have strong confidence and level of mutual understanding that we were able to come with a very important civil nuclear agreement.
Q: People to people relations are a very important component in Indo – Japan relations. How are these ties picking up between our two countries?
A: This is my big task as to how to increase more people to people exchanges. Level of mutual good feeling and respect for each other is there and I am really happy to see that. There is lot of gratitude and goodwill for Japan in Indian people. A new version of ‘Love in Tokyo’ will be filmed soon, featuring various parts of Japan. This will provide opportunity for Indians to see current situation of Japan especially the scenery, technology, films, traditions. Japan can offer not only cuisine, hospitality but also ancient traditional culture which Japan has preserved. Japan has high end technology, a disciplined society, clean cities and comfortable lifestyle. But still there is limited awareness among Indians. This kind of film will promote Japanese culture in many ways.
We are going to have an event this autumn, maybe October, we will have Japan Festival, to showcase both modern and traditional aspects of the country. Indian people can see the beauty of Japan and travel there. The number is gradually increasing. Last year it was 1.2 lakh but China to Japan was around 5-6 million. We have large number of Japanese who love curry and have it once or twice a week. I am eager to see Japanese food become equally popular in India.