Centuries-old ties | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 14, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, February 14, 2012

Fortieth Anniversary of Japan-Bangladesh diplomatic relations

Centuries-old ties

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Bangladesh and Japan. The past forty years have witnessed the steady growth of close cooperation between the two countries. Although bilateral diplomatic interactions began relatively recent, the historical and cultural connections between the two nations are centuries old.
During the Bangladesh War of liberation in 1971 the Japanese people extended immense support. Japan was the first among industrialised nations to recognise Bangladesh and established diplomatic relations on February 10, 1972. Since then, it has been consistently participating in the development process of Bangladesh. The people of Japan also have strong affinity towards Bangladesh.
Despite the changes in Bangladeshi domestic politics and diplomatic stance, and though our relations with other countries and regions changed dramatically depending on international politics and fluctuating economic relations, Japan consistently maintained very significant, effective and stable relations characterised by mutual trust and cordial friendship and was actively committed to Bangladesh's efforts in development.
The foundation of this bondage between the two nations is established on four commonalities -- food habit as they are fond of rice and fish, religious connection as Buddhism migrated to Japan from this land, anthropological affinity as they look alike in physical appearance, and natural harmony as both land have mountains and sea, rivers and greenery.
The mutual understanding and cordial relations between the people of Bangladesh and Japan has a historical background. According to Professor Tsuyoshi Nara, one of the earliest evidence of close contacts between the two peoples goes back to around four hundred years when Japanese artists carried back a widely used colour from Bengal to Japan -- it is still known as Bengaru (Bengal) colour.
Close contacts between these two nations go back to the early years of the twentieth century when Rabindranath Tagore -- who visited Japan six times -- Tenshin Okakura, a distinguished Japanese fine arts scholar, and Taikan Yokoyama, a Japanese master of painting, profoundly affected and influenced each other's works through their friendship. During the twentieth century only, Bengali and Japanese writers in Asia got Nobel prize in literature -- one is a Bangalee, Rabindranath Tagore in 1913 and two others are Japanese Yansunary Kawabata in 1968 and Kenjaburey Oe in 1994.
Close political relations between the two countries were cemented in the perspective of the anti-British Revolutionary Movement, particularly through Rash Behari Bose, a Bengali revolutionary leader. Japan became the main centre of the Bengali revolutioneries in exile. General Tojo, the then prime minister of Japan, supported the cause of Indian independence. Japan gave active support in the matter of creation of "Azad Hind Fouj" (AHF) by Rash Behari Bose and with the taking over of the post of Commander in Chief of AHF by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.
An event of the World War II attracted the respectful attention of the Japanese people towards the Bengalis, when Dr. Justice Radha Binode Paul, a judge of the International Military Court (Tokyo 1946-48), did not consider Japan guilty of war crimes. This historical verdict of Justice Paul brought a sense of relief, courage and strength in the minds of the Japanese people.
As Tagore, Bose and Paul were Bengalees, the Japanese people have had special regard, respect and fellow-feeling for the people of Bengal. After the recovery from Second World War Japanese economic assistance and investment first came to the then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) before any other part of India. In 1971, the Japanese people and the government were very sympathetic and helpful during the freedom struggle of Bangladesh, though at that time Japan was an ally of the USA. Immediately after the recognition, Japan dispatched an economic mission to Bangladesh under the leadership of Takeshi Hayakawa to help in rebuilding and rehabilitating the war-ravaged economy.
Japanese overseas development assistance (ODA) for Bangladesh has been less conditional, and favourable to the attainment of self-reliance, poverty alleviation and development of infrastructure. Japan's ODA to Bangladesh reveals a vivid picture of Japanese participation in the development process of Bangladesh. ODA to Bangladesh was initially more in the form of food aid, commodity aid and project aid. Among the 20 major international donors providing economic assistance to Bangladesh, Japan stands just after International Development Association (IDA), but is the largest bilateral development partner of Bangladesh.
Over the years, the relationship and economic cooperation between these two Asian countries have been growing stronger and stronger. Since 1985, Bangladesh has ranked first as the recipient of Japan's grant aid (roughly 10% of Japan's total grant aid) with a moderate rate of increase annually.
Bilateral relationship between Bangladesh and Japan has also been enhanced in other areas, especially in trade and investment. Japan has been one of major destinations for Bangladeshi goods. In recent years, shoes, prawns, garments and leather goods are major export products to Japan. Bangladesh is trying diversify export and develop more export- oriented industries. These measures will open up a new window of opportunities for trade and investment between two friendly countries.
Japan strongly supports Bangladesh in poverty reduction with a view to attaining the Millennium Develop-ment Goals (MDGs). To achieve that, Bangladesh must (i) expand and stabilise its basis of growth driven by the private sector, (ii) expand social development, and (iii) improve governance. In particular, Japan believes that it is necessary to provide cooperation bearing in mind the perspective of human security while promoting social development. Japan considers that bilateral relations are of vital importance in view of the changes in the international community after the end of the Cold War because of three aspects -- globalisation, promotion of economic partnerships and growing interest in development issues.
Bangladesh and Japan have shared views on many key international issues and work closely for promoting global peace and stability. Both the countries have made important contributions to the UN peace keeping operations. The relations with Japan are of priority for Bangladesh and both countries are already engaged to exploit the high potential for further deepening and widening cooperation.

The writer is a former Secretary, former Chairman National Board of Revenue, and former Commercial Counsellor of Bangladesh to Japan.
E-mail: mazid1273@hotmail.com

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