The year 2022 marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and India. The whole year will be marked by festive events. It is an opportunity to reminisce, to be aware of the present and to envision our future. I am delighted that we can together celebrate the 75th anniversary of India’s independence and the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and India.
Formal relations between Japan and India began in 1952. After World War II, instead of signing the San Francisco multilateral peace treaty, India opted to enter into a bilateral peace treaty with Japan, considering that honor and equality must be ensured for Japan to join the international community. It is the cornerstone of our long-standing friendship. But even before the establishment of diplomatic relations, the goodwill between the peoples of the two countries was deeply rooted through commercial, academic and cultural exchanges. In 1951, when India hosted the first Asian Games in New Delhi, it invited Japanese athletes. It was one of the first occasions the Japanese flag was raised after World War II. This experience soothed the spirits of Japanese people struggling to rebuild their country. After 70 years of multi-level exchanges, the relationship between our two countries has evolved into a “special strategic and global partnership”. Our partnership is based on deep respect for each other’s contributions to promoting peace, stability and development in Asia and beyond. I am proud that today, especially under the leadership of the two Prime Ministers, we recognize 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 exchanges between peoples dating back to the 6th century. Buddhism was introduced to Japan, and in 752 an Indian monk, Bodhisena, performed the consecration ceremony of the Great Buddha statue at Todai-ji, which is one of the most important temples in Japan. Fast forward to the Meiji Restoration at the end of the 19th century: Japan needed natural resources to modernize its industry. Many Japanese traveled to India to buy cotton, iron ore, etc. Mention should also be made of exchanges between artists. This includes an interaction between Nobel Prize for Literature winner 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 create our future together and propel us towards the 100th anniversary milestone and beyond. I firmly believe that the future holds tremendous opportunities 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 solid foundations of common values and traditions. We continue our efforts to build a free and open international order based on rules. There are a plethora of areas where we can cooperate on security issues, including cybersecurity, outer space, and economic security.
Second, our economic relations can be further strengthened. For a long time, Japan was the largest donor of ODA (official development assistance) 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 biggest investors in India. The two countries have also encouraged economic cooperation in other countries to improve social infrastructure and connectivity. Our economic partnership can further strengthen the Indo-Pacific economy, as well as the global economy.
Third, cultural exchanges, including literature, films, music, sports and scholars, are essential to our relations, allowing for better understanding. I am glad to hear that the number of Japanese learners is increasing in India. I firmly believe that these fiery young minds from our countries will be the foundation for an even stronger friendship in the future.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, our bond continues to flourish. Even though the number of face-to-face interactions may have been impacted, this in no way means that our ties have weakened. Our long history proves it. Our shared vision of the future will never be affected. We can strengthen our partnership even during the pandemic by using digital technology as an enabler of new and innovative ways to stay in touch with each other. I would like to conclude by sending my best wishes for this special year 2022. I hope it will be memorable for our countries and peoples.
The writer is Japanese Ambassador to India