Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had kept up his sleeves a unique treat for his guest, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on his visit to Tel Aviv in May of the current year. Segev Moshe, a renowned culinary expert and Netanyahu's private chef, after the main meal over the diplomatic dinner rolled out the special dessert on the table: “A selection of chocolates served in dark metal shoes for Japanese and Israeli heads of government Shinzo Abe and Benjamin Netanyahu and their wives Akie and Sara.”
There is nothing lowlier than a shoe in Japanese culture. Not only do they refrain from wearing shoes at home, you won't find shoes in their offices; apparently embarrassed Israeli foreign ministry officials mumbled a post-haste pro forma statement: “No disrespect meant to the distinguished guests,” implying perhaps only an artistic license was taken.
An Instagram user commented, “I can't believe that you have put shoes on a table for the Prime Minister of Japan: Reality transcends parody, the sarcastic remark went on—A bit of homework on other people's culture next time will not hurt.”
Maybe the rare diplomatic faux pas was a garbed riposte to the Japanese soft power diplomatic advances in the Middle East.
A John Defterios Special to Gulf News, September 27, sums up the Japanese campaign for soft power outreach. “Undeterred by fits and starts of reforms (an oblique reference to a slightly reactive dynamic to post-War constitutional restrictions on militarisation), Japan is renewing its soft power approach with a combination of cultural and economic influence that should help build up a reservoir of goodwill for decades to come.”
In tangible terms, under the nickname of the Resilience Policy in the Middle East and North Africa, Japan is supporting culture, development training and education in the political and security hotspots of the region. Egypt, Palestine Territories and Jordan are the sites “where we witness first-hand how Japan is out to steer a volatile region in the right direction.”
Even Yemen, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Iraq are poised to be beneficiaries of Japanese soft power gestures. Japan is the third largest economic power in the world. Tokyo doesn't want to rest content with retaining its position as an economic-technological powerhouse but also use its cultural and aesthetic magnetism towards building a softer, humane enlightening world.
Japan is perhaps ideally suited for pursuing such international agenda on the quiet, without self-trumpeting to be inviting any unwanted envious stares. Actually, “Tokyo is a convincing example of promoting the positive image by a non-great power without engaging military means.” It maintains a demonstrative disregard of geo-political ambitions. Economic success, urban development, high quality of education, futuristic technologies and above all its mysterious culture, are assets which Japan will employ in the fulfilment of its newly unfolding world role.
According to Joseph Nye Jr the pioneer of soft power concept, Japan's attractiveness potential is one of the highest in the world. Nye, a political scientist; Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor defined soft power “as the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments. It arises from the attractiveness of a country's culture, political ideals, and policies. It is much more than “image, public relations and ephemeral popularity.”
In elucidating soft power Professor Nye's book underlines the symbolic dimension of the phenomenon thus: The Chinese student demonstration in Tiananmen Square used a replica of the Statue of Liberty. And the newly liberated Afghans asked for a copy of the Bill of Rights.
A great opportunity to put life into Japanese soft power can be the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Olympic Games slated to take place in Japan.
In the Autumn of 2019 three big events by Takashi Murakami will be warmly welcomed in Russia. There will be “gentle rains” and Keiichi's “Center of mirrors” on show.
As for Bangladesh we signed a deal with Japan in August for 24 well-equipped rescue boats. They will be used to ensure maritime security and check terrorism and piracy in the Bay of Bengal. Among a host of other positive engagements, the Bangladesh Japan friendship bridges bear testimony to deeper ties.
According to a news item on September 25, 2018 Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Japan and his Bangladesh counterpart AS Mahmud Ali met during the 73rd session of the UNGA. Renewing their commitments to Japan-Bangladesh Comprehensive Partnership they agreed to further diversify cooperation in light of Bangladesh's elevation to a middle income country by 2021.
It is especially noteworthy that both foreign ministers expressed commitments to further strengthening bilateral ties towards 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 2022. Bangladesh too has a wealth of soft power potential that needs to be harnessed to enhance the country's image.
Shah Husain Imam is Adjunct Faculty, East West University, a commentator on current affairs, and former Associate Editor, The Daily Star.