NEW DELHI, May 14: The historical connection between India’s Northeast and Japan goes back to World War II when Japan suffered huge losses in the Battles of Kohima and Imphal. Today, the country is redefining its ties with the region by scripting a story of harmony and development as the only foreign nation allowed to invest in the Northeast.Japan’s ambassador to India Kenji Hiramatsu recently visited the region and proposed deepening and widening the relationship.
Addressing a seminar on ‘India, Japan and Northeast’ at the Asian Confluence Centre in Shillong, Meghalaya, Hiramatsu outlined the different areas of significant Indo-Japan cooperation in the Northeast. He said the region was “one of the core agendas of our bilateral relationship”.
Tracing the history of the relationship, Hiramatsu said, “Japan’s encounter with the Northeast started through the experience of the Battles of Imphal and Kohima during World War II. I myself have visited Manipur twice and Nagaland once to pay tributes to the war victims. On these occasions, I interacted with the people in those states, and I was impressed and touched by the warm and friendly feelings that the local people extended to Japan.”
Noting that Japan and India were working together by synergising New Delhi’s ‘Act East Policy’ and ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy’, he said the “Northeast is where these two policy and strategy converge”.Given the “strategically and economically important location of the Northeast—at the juncture between India, South Asia and Southeast Asian countries—our Prime Ministers agreed to cooperate for the development of the Northeastern region and enhancement of connectivity. To this end, we established the ‘Japan-India Act East Forum’, …a unique platform dedicated to Japan-India cooperation in the Northeast. It puts together relevant agencies from Japan and India to discuss further cooperation in the region,” he said.
While this forum is a new initiative, Japan has long been an active development partner in the region, providing “a wide variety of cooperation, ranging from connectivity and other economic infrastructure, to skill development, to community empowerment”, the envoy said.Much to China’s chagrin, India allowed Japan to invest in infrastructure projects in the sensitive N-E states, a sign of the trust and shared vision between the two nations. These projects range from upgrading national highways to water supply and sewage facilities in Assam and hydro-power stations in Meghalaya as well as several community based projects in collaboration with local NGOs.
In his address to the forum, Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma said, “We have to make sure that the Japan-India ties and its focus on the Northeastern region are taken forward in the right way.” Noting that trust was a basic condition for any relationship trust, he said, “Trust takes time to build and India does not share this kind of trust with any other country in the world. Connectivity is at the core of taking the ‘Act East Policy’ to the level of the ‘Act East Doctrine’ which is soon going to crystallise into concrete action plans.”
- N-E connect: Japan’s projects
North East Road Network Connectivity Improvement Project: Meghalaya and Mizoram
Guwahati Water Supply Project and Guwahati Sewerage Project: Assam
Project on Capacity Enhancement for Sustainable Agriculture and Irrigation Development: Mizoram
Forest Environmental Improvement and Poverty Alleviation Project: Tripura
Capacity Development for Forest Management and Personnel Training Project: Assam, Mizoram and Nagaland
Biodiversity Conservation and Forest Management Project: Sikkim
Forest Resource Management Project: Nagaland
Financial Support by The Nippon Foundation for Construction of Imphal War Museum: Manipur