In Con­ver­sa­tion with Kenji Hi­ra­matsu Am­bas­sador of Ja­pan to In­dia

FICCI Business Digest - - International -

On In­dia-Ja­pan Ja­pan and In­dia share 'spe­cial strate­gic and global part­ner­ship'. How do you think the part­ner­ship has evolved over time?

It is my firm con­vic­tion that Ja­panIn­dia re­la­tion­ship has an el­e­ment of cer­tainty in an in­creas­ingly un­cer­tain and vo­latile world. In this world, we need a real and trusted friend. That is In­dia for us.

As Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe said, a ro­bust Ja­pan-In­dia re­la­tion­ship is a global com­mon good that un­der­pins the re­gional or­der. Ja­pan and In­dia share val­ues in­clud­ing our com­mit­ment to democ­racy, open­ness, and the rule of law. The Ja­panese and In­dian economies com­ple­ment each other. We have deep his­toric and spir­i­tual ties, which brings our peo­ple closer. In­dian re­li­gion and cul­ture have been rooted strongly in Ja­panese cul­tural and so­cial struc­ture over the cen­turies.

As you wit­nessed in the his­toric visit of Prime Min­is­ter Abe to Gu­jarat last Septem­ber, Ja­pan-In­dia re­la­tion­ship has en­tered a new era. It was dur­ing Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi's first state visit to Ja­pan in 2014 that we el­e­vated our re­la­tion­ship to the Spe­cial Strate­gic and Global Part­ner­ship. Only three-and-half years have passed since then, but, I feel, we have made a dra­matic progress in strength­en­ing our part­ner­ship. The sig­nif­i­cant achieve­ments we have made in re­cent years in­clude 1) the con­ver­gence of strate­gies; 2) the launch of High Speed Rail­way project; 3) Agree­ment for Co­op­er­a­tion in the Peace­ful Uses of Nu­clear En­ergy; 4) the fun­da­men­tal up­grad­ing of our eco­nomic re­la­tions, and 5) the sig­nif­i­cant deep­en­ing of peo­ple-to-peo­ple ex­changes.

Al­though these de­vel­op­ments were un­prece­dented, we have yet to achieve the great po­ten­tial of Ja­panIn­dia re­la­tion­ship, which was de­scribed by Prime Min­is­ter Abe as “the most promis­ing bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship in the world”. We are now work­ing day and night to ful­fil the po­ten­tial and fur­ther deepen and strengthen our part­ner­ship in var­i­ous ar­eas.

You have men­tioned in a mes­sage

that it is im­por­tant for In­di­ans and Ja­panese to be­come more aware of the 'prox­im­ity' between our two na­tions. What spe­cial ini­tia­tives ac­cord­ing to you are im­por­tant to build this prox­im­ity and cul­ti­va­tion of mu­tual un­der­stand­ing between the peo­ple of Ja­pan and In­dia? There are a num­ber of ar­eas where we can build on our 'prox­im­ity' and en­hance co­op­er­a­tion to achieve bet­ter mu­tual un­der­stand­ing. One such ex­am­ple is Ja­panese lan­guage ed­u­ca­tion.

Not many In­di­ans are aware but the cre­ation and de­vel­op­ment of Ja­panese al­pha­bet, Kana, owed a lot to the San­skrit lan­guage, which was brought into Ja­pan with Bud­dhism in the eighth cen­tury. Ja­panese monks had to study San­skrit out of the ne­ces­sity to mas­ter Bud­dhism from the In­dian orig­i­nal su­tras and text­books. It is said that Ja­panese peo­ple cre­ated its own al­pha­bet by bor­row­ing San­skrit struc­ture and sounds. Ac­cord­ingly, you can see that the struc­ture and sounds of vow­els are al­most the same between the two lan­guages. This is the se­cret as to why In­dian peo­ple can so quickly mas­ter the Ja­panese lan­guage and vice-versa. The pro­mo­tion of Ja­panese Lan­guage Ed­u­ca­tion in In­dia is one of our top pri­or­i­ties. It can fun­da­men­tally en­hance peo­ple-to-peo­ple con­nec­tions and un­der­stand­ing. Flu­ency in Ja­panese lan­guage greatly ben­e­fit the In­dian peo­ple, not only in terms of bet­ter mu­tual un­der­stand­ing, but also for aug­ment­ing busi­nesses and job op­por­tu­ni­ties. An in­creased num­ber of Ja­panese lan­guage speak­ers will also ben­e­fit Ja­panese en­ti­ties in In­dia which en­deav­our to en­hance their scope of op­er­a­tion in In­dia.

We saw great progress in this area dur­ing Prime Min­is­ter Abe's visit last year, where the two lead­ers agreed to pro­mote Ja­panese lan­guage ed­u­ca­tion, and I signed the Mem­o­ran­dum of Co­op­er­a­tion with for­mer For­eign Sec­re­tary S Jais­hankar, to fur­ther ma­te­ri­al­ize such ef­forts. To im­ple­ment this MoC, For­eign Sec­re­tary Vi­jay Gokhale and I co-chaired the first meet­ing of the Steer­ing Com­mit­tee in March and dis­cussed the prepa­ra­tions for the es­tab­lish­ment and man­age­ment of the Teach­ers Train­ing Cen­tre, as well as the im­por­tance to iden­tify 100 in­sti­tu­tions to es­tab­lish Ja­panese Lan­guage cer­tifi­cate cour­ses. I am pleased to in­form you that Ja­panese Lan­guage Teach­ers Train­ing Cen­tre is about to open and we have just started to ac­cept ap­pli­ca­tions from those who are will­ing to be a Ja­panese lan­guage teacher. One of its train­ing cour­ses will start on 23 July.

Through these un­der­tak­ings, I look for­ward to see­ing a lot more Ja­panese lan­guage speak­ers in In­dia.

What other as­pects of the so­cio­cul­tural fab­ric need to be pro­moted for deep­en­ing co­op­er­a­tion and un­der­stand­ing between the two coun­tries?

En­vi­ron­men­tal co­op­er­a­tion based on our com­mon cul­tural rev­er­ence to­wards na­ture is an area which can bring about pos­i­tive changes in In­dian so­ci­ety.

Ja­pan is ac­tively as­sist­ing In­dia in car­ry­ing for­ward its 'Clean In­dia' cam­paign. Ja­panese peo­ple strive to live har­mo­niously with the en­vi­ron­ment, as they have a sense of rev­er­ence to­wards na­ture and they them­selves once ex­pe­ri­enced se­vere en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­tion in the past. In­deed, it is of­ten for­got­ten that Ja­pan too suf­fered from grave en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­tion in the late 1950s and 1960s.

Dur­ing the pe­riod of high eco­nomic growth and in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion, peo­ple were obliv­i­ous to the by-prod­ucts of in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion – pol­lu­tion. The level of pol­lu­tion was un­prece­dented, leav­ing no ref­er­ences for quick so­lu­tions, and it took toll of peo­ple's health and liv­ing en­vi­ron­ment. How­ever, with con­certed ef­forts of the govern­ment, com­pa­nies, civil so­ci­ety groups, and in­di­vid­u­als, Ja­pan even­tu­ally over­came the hard­ship and re­claimed its blue sky and clean wa­ter.

Bear­ing in mind their own gloomy past, Ja­panese peo­ple are ea­ger to co­op­er­ate with other na­tions in find­ing so­lu­tions for sim­i­lar kinds of suf­fer­ing. At the be­gin­ning of this year, the Em­bassy of Ja­pan in In­dia launched the 'Blue Sky Ini­tia­tives' with an aim to mit­i­gat­ing air pol­lu­tion by en­sur­ing that the best and lat­est tech­nolo­gies are made avail­able to In­dia. For in­stance, ex­haus­tion from coal ther­mal power plants is one of the pri­mary causes of air pol­lu­tion in In­dia, there­fore Ja­panese com­pa­nies have de­vel­oped equip­ment that can fil­ter out par­tic­u­late mat­ters.

In the fu­ture, we ex­pect even more ad­vanced ap­pli­ca­tions of Ja­panese tech­nol­ogy to help im­prove the en­vi­ron­ment for the peo­ple of In­dia. By com­bin­ing In­dian re­solve with the tech­no­log­i­cal ex­per­tise of Ja­pan, the two na­tions can win the fight against pol­lu­tion and re­gain cleaner and greener en­vi­ron­ment.

On FICCI-Em­bassy Part­ner­ship

What made you choose Bi­har as the first des­ti­na­tion of Di­a­logue with States – the joint ini­tia­tive

between FICCI Fo­rum of Par­lia­men­tar­i­ans and Em­bassy of Ja­pan?

It is a great plea­sure to con­vene a fo­rum 'Ja­pan meets Bi­har' coor­ga­nized by FICCI's Fo­rum of Par­lia­men­tar­i­ans and the Em­bassy of Ja­pan on 11 June. This spe­cial event is the first of a se­ries en­ti­tled 'Di­a­logue with States', in which we hold events in re­gional cities to high­light var­i­ous as­pects of co­op­er­a­tion between In­dian states and Ja­pan, thereby demon­strat­ing that our bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship has reached to a stage to have such strate­gic en­gage­ments at the state level.

Bi­har is the state best suited to in­au­gu­rate this new ini­tia­tive. This state is not only the 'Heart of In­dia', but also rep­re­sents the spir­i­tual and re­li­gious ties which ush­ered in the long, deep and wide-rang­ing re­la­tion­ship between Ja­pan and In­dia. Go­ing back the his­tory, our two civ­i­liza­tions were first con­nected through Bud­dhism, which was vir­tu­ally born in Bi­har.

On Bi­har In­dian states are in­creas­ingly en­gag­ing in sis­ter city agree­ments with states/cities of other coun­tries. How do you think that the agree­ment between Nara pre­fec­ture and Bi­har will pave way for closer ties in the fu­ture?

His­toric doc­u­ments record that, as early as in the 8th cen­tury, an In­dian monk reached Ja­pan af­ter a long and dif­fi­cult jour­ney cross­ing the Hi­malayan moun­tains, deserts and the sea. This Brah­man Bud­dhist high priest, whose name is Bod­hisena, as­sumed the role of Mas­ter of Cer­e­mony for the Con­se­crat­ing Cer­e­mony of the Great Bud­dha at the To­daiji Tem­ple in Nara Pre­fec­ture in 752.

It is re­mark­able that more than twelve cen­turies af­ter this his­toric event, Chief Min­is­ter Ni­tish Ku­mar vis­ited Nara Pre­fec­ture in­clud­ing To­daiji Tem­ple in Fe­bru­ary, and dis­cussed with Nara Gov­er­nor, Shogo Arai, about pur­su­ing a friend­ship ar­range­ment between the State of Bi­har and Nara Pre­fec­ture. I strongly hope that fu­ture-ori­ented co­op­er­a­tion between the two provinces with com­mon Bud­dhist her­itage will be ma­te­ri­al­ized.

What are your views on the pro­posed 'Peace Cor­ri­dor' in Bi­har aimed at con­nect­ing all the his­tor­i­cal Bud­dhist sites through high speed rail link and road net­work. Given the great cul­tural and his­tor­i­cal affin­ity between In­dia and Ja­pan, strength­en­ing peo­ple to peo­ple con­nect through tourism has tremen­dous po­ten­tial. Ja­pan has been one of the most sig­nif­i­cant sup­port­ing part­ner in de­vel­op­ing the fourlane road cor­ri­dor to Gaya, Ra­j­gir and Na­landa. There is op­por­tu­nity Ja­pan for in­creased co­op­er­a­tion in in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment. How do you en­vis­age Ja­pan's deep­en­ing part­ner­ship with Bi­har in this con­text?

Bi­har is at­trac­tive for Ja­pan, not only for its his­tor­i­cal and spir­i­tual ties with us, but also for its strate­gic lo­ca­tion in con­nec­tiv­ity, hu­man re­sources and its unique art and cul­ture.

Dur­ing the Fe­bru­ary visit to Ja­pan, Chief Min­is­ter Ni­tish Ku­mar met Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe and For­eign Min­is­ter Taro Kono, among oth­ers, and had sub­stan­tive dis­cus­sions on ways to fur­ther en­hance eco­nomic part­ner­ships and peo­ple-to-peo­ple con­nec­tions between Ja­pan and Bi­har. I have re­ceived a per­sonal in­struc­tion from Prime Min­is­ter Abe to make sure that the out­come of the visit is duly fol­lowed up on. For this pur­pose, I am meet­ing the Chief Min­is­ter.

Ja­pan has pro­vided of­fi­cial as­sis­tant to Bi­har's tourism sec­tor and for­est man­age­ment sec­tor and com­mit­ted over 44 bil­lion yen for projects to widen Na­tional High­way 82 and 83, as well as the con­struc­tion of by­passes. On top of these projects, I would like to see more co­op­er­a­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion ma­te­ri­al­ized between Ja­pan and the State of Bi­har.

I will also be talk­ing more about the great po­ten­tial of Ja­pan-Bi­har co­op­er­a­tion. I am look­ing for­ward to meet­ing the Chief Min­is­ter and peo­ple of Bi­har to ex­change views and ideas.

Kenji Hi­ra­matsu, Am­bas­sador of Ja­pan to In­dia.

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