Since the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, Japan has consistently been participating in the development process of Bangladesh. Japan maintains good relations with Bangladesh and the people of Japan have a strong affinity towards Bangladesh. Despite all the changes in Bangladeshi domestic politics and diplomatic stance, Japan – being first among industrialised nations – recognised Bangladesh on February 10, 1972.
Though relations of Bangladesh with other countries and regions changed dramatically – depending on international politics and fluctuating economic relations – Japan has consistently maintained significant, effective and stable relations. The relations are characterised by mutual trust and cordial friendship, and are actively committed to Bangladesh's efforts in development.
The epitome of existing mutual understanding and cordial relations between the people of Bangladesh and Japan has historical foundations. According to Professor Tsuyoshi Nara, some of the earliest evidence of close contact between the two peoples goes back to around four hundred years when Japanese fine artists carried back a widely-used colour from Bengal to Japan, still known as Bengaru (Bengal) colour.
The foundation of this bond between the two nations is euphorically established on four commonalities: food habit, as they are fond of rice and fish; religious reminiscences, 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, sea, rivers, and greenery.
Close contact between these two nations go back to the early years of the twentieth century, when Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1942), who visited Japan six times, and Tenshin Okakura (1862-1913), a distinguished Japanese fine arts scholar, plus Taikan Yokoyama, a Japanese master of painting, profoundly affected and influenced each other's work through their friendship.
During the hundred years of twentieth century, only Bengali and Japanese writers got the Nobel Prize in Literature in Asia; one is a Bengali, Rabindranath Tagore, in 1913, and the two others are Japanese Yansunary Kawabata (1899 -1972) in 1968 and Kenjaburey Oe (1935-) in 1994.
Close political relations between the two countries cemented the perspectives of the anti-British Revolutionary Movement, particularly through Rash Behari Bose, a Bengali revolutionary leader. Japan became the main centre of Bengali revolutionaries in exile. On 16 February 1942, General Tojo, the then-prime minister of Japan, in a declaration, supported the cause of Indian independence.
Japan had active support in the matter of creation of Azad Hind Fouj, by Rash Behari Bose, and the taking over of the post of Commander in Chief of AHF by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose (1897-1945). An event of World War II attracted the attention of the Japanese people very respectfully towards the Bengalis, when Dr Radha Binode Paul (1876-1967), a lone judge of the International Military Court (Tokyo, 1946-1948) did not consider Japan guilty of war crimes.
Dr Justice Paul, born in Salimpur of Kushtia district, in present Bangladesh, the Justice of the Calcutta High Court (1941-43) and the then-vice chancellor of Calcutta University (1943-44) was appointed one of the Judges of the Military Court. This historical verdict of Justice Paul aroused a sense of relief, courage and strength in the minds of the Japanese people.
As Tagore, Bose and Paul all were Bengalis, the Japanese people have had special regard, respect and fellow feelings for the people of Bengal, compared to people of other regions in India. After the recovery from World War II, 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 became very sympathetic and helpful in the matter of the freedom struggle of Bangladesh – though at that time Japan was an ardent ally of the United States. Immediately after the recognition, Japan dispatched an economic mission under leadership of Takeshi Hayakawa(1917-1982), to Bangladesh, to stand by her in rebuilding and rehabilitating its war-ravaged economy.
Since the establishment of diplomatic ties between Bangladesh and Japan, Japan has been extending its aid assistance to Bangladesh. Japanese Official Development Assistance (ODA) for Bangladesh has been focused less conditionally, favourable to the development and realisation of her aim for self-reliance and poverty alleviation and development of infrastructure. When we look at the aid commitment and disbursement position of Japan's ODA to Bangladesh, it reveals a vivid picture of Japan's leading trend of Japanese participation in the development process of Bangladesh.
At the reconstruction and rehabilitation stage, the participation was providing ODA to Bangladesh, 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 the International Development Association (IDA) but bilaterally is the largest development partner of Bangladesh. Japan, the third largest economy and technologically the most advanced nation in the world, has been able to project its positive image as the leading 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.
Japan is one of the richest countries in the world and is an important development partner of Bangladesh. She is the significant source of foreign aid to Bangladesh and a member of the G8 countries. Bangladesh is an important source of raw materials and trade partner of Japan, as well as a significant place of investment. Japan and Bangladesh have been maintaining a cordial relationship in an atmosphere of goodwill and cooperation for the last four decades.
This relationship is strengthened and reinforced through bilateral relations between the two countries. Despite an asymmetry in status and economic power, Japan-Bangladesh relations illustrate successful and harmonious relations between a developed and a developing country. It is unique that during the past four decades, Japan and Bangladesh have consistently maintained friendly and productive relations despite regime changes in both countries.
Dr Muhammad Abdul Mazid, former Bangladeshi Trade diplomat in Japan, Secretary to the Government and Chairman, NBR.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.