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Japan, don't forget how Buddha smiles
February 08, 2006
The Japanese are thoroughly disillusioned with diplomacy. This is the word doing the rounds in Jakarta and Bangkok. If so, the ingratitude that prompts the complaint might be a good reason for returning to Tokyo's earlier commitment to disarmament, which is not heard of much nowadays but whose relevance is highlighted by the crisis over Iran.
It is a mission in which India can also play a part.
Southeast Asians claim that the Japanese charge them with responding poorly to Tokyo's generosity. Here is the world's second largest economy, Asia's richest nation that spent billions of dollars in aid and investment in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Yasukuni Enoki, Japan's active and 'imaginative' ambassador to India, confirms that the sum was three times more than its foreign direct investment to China. Yet, not a single ASEAN member will support Japan's quest for a seat at the world's high table.
Can that be one reason -- perhaps the most significant one -- why India, not ASEAN or China, was perhaps the first Asian destination for Taro Aso, who became Japan's foreign minister last October?
With dates not matching, Aso's maiden trip had to change course and he landed at Japan's old enemy, benefactor, strategic ally, nuclear protector and economic competitor -- the United States.
The many levels at which Japan interacts with the United States suggests a sophistication in Tokyo that goes far beyond the simple compulsion of dollars and cents. So does the concept of a Japan-ASEAN-India triangle secretly loom large in bilateral commerce?
One example cited is Toyota Kirloskar Auto Parts; a subsidiary of Bangalore's troubled Toyota Kirloskar Motors. All its products such as transmissions feed local Toyota industries in Southeast Asia. Transcending political frontiers, the triangle constitutes what is presently called a single economic space.
This currently fashionable concept encourages the hope that Japan's imprimatur might enable India to win back some of its own lost markets in Southeast Asia. Tata trucks, Usha fans, Godrej safes, manhole covers made in Kolkata and textbooks printed in Allahabad were once plentiful in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
But for some years now, rich Asians have turned up their worldly noses at Indian products. They might no longer do so if quality, finish, packaging and after sales attention are guaranteed by a 'Made in India with Japanese collaboration' label.
For us, this would be a fair exchange for the transfer to Japan of the Brahmanical gods and goddesses, albeit in their Buddhist incarnation and by way of China and Korea, that Dwijendra Nath Bakshi described with such erudition nearly 30 years ago in Hindu Divinities in Japanese Buddhist Pantheon.
During the couple of days he spent in New Delhi last month, Aso confirmed that India will remain the largest recipient of Japanese overseas development loans for the third year running.
But reviewing progress -- or lack of it -- on previously agreed goals like a science and technology initiative, centres of teaching Japanese and an institute of information technology for design and manufacturing, one must be cautious about the aims set out this time. The spirit may be willing but the flesh -- in India at least -- is weak.
Certainly, let those tangible ends set out during the visit – ICT partnership, energy cooperation, freight corridors, human exchanges and United Nations reform -- not be neglected. Rather, let serious attention also be paid to the ninth item on the joint list, an annual dialogue on disarmament and non-proliferation.
Sadly, the circumlocutory wording is not at all reassuring. Japan and India are to talk, it says, 'with the objective of promoting commonalities and enlarging areas of convergence for mutual cooperation in a constructive manner, thereby contributing to the advancement of overall bilateral relations.'
What does it all add up to? More obfuscation.
Given Japanese outrage and excitement over Pokhran II, why cannot an Indo-Japanese document unambiguously reiterate its commitment to Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, committing all five acknowledged nuclear powers to make progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally with the ultimate end of eliminating those weapons?
After all, the International Court of Justice has ruled that the clause is valid and binding. It says that the US, Russia, Britain, France and China are legally obliged to undertake 'general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.'
As Albert Einstein famously put it, "Politics is for the moment. An equation is for eternity." So is peace. So, why should the Japanese become so mealy-mouthed now about something to which they have been deeply committed, emotionally and pragmatically, for 60 years?
Japan must persuade India, not acquiesce in New Delhi's great power ambitions. But, then, an insistence on Article VI of the NPT will also mean offending the US and capping Japan's own future plans for what it still calls its self-defence force.