Copyright The International Herald Tribune
THURSDAY, MAY 5, 2005
CALCUTTA Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan likes to tell how impressed he was by the thrift and conscientiousness of Indians when he last visited New Delhi, as a private citizen, nearly a decade ago. Each time he tried to get rid of some worn underpants, the hotel staff would fish out the unwanted garments and return them to him freshly laundered and pressed. A special messenger even chased him to the airport with them in a packet as he was leaving. Indians never throw away a thing.
With the aid of such Indian diligence, surely Japan can gain a coveted seat, veto and all, on an expanded United Nations Security Council?
This is the nirvana of “the new Asian era” to be ushered in by the eightfold path that Koizumi and his host, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, chalked out recently.
Indians now expect trade with Japan to blossom from $4 billion to $20 billion in just five years. Japanese investment will boom from virtually nothing. Ironically, given Japan’s fury when India went nuclear in 1998, the two countries are now “partners against nuclear proliferation.”
All this marks a change from years of neglect. True, Japanese loans bailed India out in the early 90s, when Singh, as finance minister, inherited a kitty with just enough to pay for two weeks’ imports. Japan also gives more aid to India than it does to China and Indonesia. But beyond the call of compassion, Japan showed little interest in ties. Few Japanese tourists bothered with India’s special luxury train for Buddhist sites.
Now both countries have set their sights on becoming permanent members of the Security Council. India’s economy is doing well, Japan needs Asian partners to offset disgruntled China and, with cold war estrangement forgotten, even the United States values India’s cooperation. But though President George W. Bush may not mind how many countries crowd the Security Council, providing they don’t have vetoes and providing the United Nations doesn’t count for much, Pakistan won’t have India there. More important, China will not accept Japan at the world’s high table.
Hence Japan’s dual strategy. Globally, an expanded Security Council with Japan, India, Germany and Brazil as full members would diminish the consequence of the existing five permanent members. Regionally, a functional and not geographic East Asian Community, including India, Australia and the United States, will mean less clout for China, today’s biggest kid on the Asian block.
Thus the courtship with India. It was not always so. No Japanese prime minister set foot in India from 1961 to 1984. Explaining Japan’s refusal to admit India to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, a Tokyo diplomat claimed, only half jokingly, that a country wasn’t Asian if imperial Japanese forces hadn’t occupied it during World War II.
Now, says Japan’s ambassador to India, Yasukuni Enoki, “Japan is willing to recognize India as a major power in Asia.” He even quotes the Goldman-Sachs report that India’s gross domestic product will soar to $28 trillion by 2050, when Japan’s will have dwindled to $7 trillion.
In making this pitch, an ardent worshipper at Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine like Koizumi must be well aware of latent Indian sentiment. Alone of the 11 judges at the Tokyo War Crimes trial, Judge Radha Benode Pal of India denounced the proceedings as “victor’s justice.” His 1,235-word dissenting verdict – which he was forbidden to read out or publish until the end of the American occupation – mentioned Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and acquitted all 25 defendants whom the court found guilty. The Yasukuni Shrine honors them all.
As Singh reminded his guest, India also rejected the 1951 U.S.-sponsored San Francisco Peace Conference (as a wartime ally, it was entitled to attend) and repudiated a peace treaty that bore John Foster Dulles’s imprimatur. Waiving reparation claims, Jawaharlal Nehru signed a separate treaty that he felt respected Japan’s dignity.
Politics allows no gratitude. Nations have no memory. But historical association sanctifies present politics as India and Japan mount a diplomatic offensive to lobby governments and present the general assembly’s 60th session in September with a resolution on UN reform. Neither country will be done out of its place in the sun as the new Asian era dawns.
(Sunanda K. Datta-Ray, a former editor of The Statesman in India, is author of ”Waiting for America: India and the U.S. in the New Millennium.”)