A former rugby player, Yoshiro Mori’s style of functioning as Japan’s prime minister from 2000 to 2001 did not leave him with many fans. But many in India credit the 77-year-old politician with taking the first steps towards strengthening relations between India and Japan after the Pokhran tests. As part of the Japanese emperor’s delegation to India, he took time from his hectic schedule to speak to Pranay Sharma on the current visit, bilateral ties and developments in Japan’s neighbourhood. Excerpts:
Initiatives to strengthen Indo-Japan ties were taken when you were the prime minister. How did it happen and how much have they progressed?
When World War II ended, I was in second grade. Japan was defeated. We were taught in school that Japan fought against major powers of the world and lost. Stories were doing the rounds that the Americans will come and take over the country, that they’ll arrest all the adults and kill the children. All this was quite depressing for us. It was at a time like this that India reached out to us. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru gifted us a baby elephant and called it Indira. It was like a gift from the Buddha.
So that is one of the lasting impressions you had about India?
It was surely something that developed my interest in India. But I also knew that Buddhism came to Japan from India. So I grew up thinking about India and wanting to visit.
When did it finally take place?
As prime minister, I had cancer and knew that before soon I will have to give up the post. But before that I wanted to do something meaningful. I thought of putting a structure in place that will give people easy access to information. That’s how I started focusing on information technology, and India’s name invariably cropped up.
So India’s prowess in the IT sector was the only attraction?
No, there were other things too. Mahatma Gandhi’s principles—democracy, non-violence, international cooperation—all these were values followed by post-war Japan too. Since we shared the same values, I was sure we could be good friends. I also knew that as India’s economy grew, it would face challenges Japan once faced. So there was something it could learn from us. This led India and Japan to enter into a ‘Global Partnership’.
How significant is the visit of your emperor and empress Michiko to India?
They had been here 53 years ago as crown prince and crown princess. The warm welcome they received from the Indian government and people was something they did not forget. When the Indian president invited them, it was thought it would be a good opportunity for the emperor and empress to come to India when the two countries are celebrating the 60th year of establishing diplomatic contacts, and show their appreciation to the government and the people.
Will it help in elevating Indo-Japanese relations to a higher level?
I definitely think so. There are more than 40 Japanese journalists who have come here and are covering their (the royal couple’s) visit widely. This is being watched with much interest by people back home.
What are the challenges India and Japan face in bilateral relations?
The seeds we had sown have now begun to show results. For example, investments made by the Japanese business community in India have led to employment and income generation. The two governments are also supporting initiatives like the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor and similar projects between Chennai and Bangalore. The Global Partnership between the two sides can also be taken to other areas. By the end of this year, more than 1,000 Japanese companies will be in India and it will only grow further.
What does Prime Minister Shinzo Abe mean when he talks of a “pro-active initiative to maintain peace” in the region?
Japan’s post-war constitution remains in force so far. We are not going to war with any country. But we now face a lot of new challenges—nuclear weapons, cyber attacks and terrorism. We face a situation where Japan cannot remain passive. But it is not possible for us to protect our people against these challenges and meet them alone. We need the cooperation of the world for this. All countries must come together.
Is China’s belligerence a major concern?
We face various challenges from neighbours like China and Korea. But we cannot move away simply because we don’t like them. We need to talk to them and find a peaceful way to resolve the differences.
Have often felt Name Japan's last five Prime Ministers - without listing out four options - would deserve to be a five crore question on KBC.
Since 1945, Japan and Germany have been model global citizens. How could someone possibly pick a fight with Japan ?
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