Wednesday, September 16, 2009



Long before President Barack Obama of the US started speaking of the need for a change in outlook, attitudes and policies, a man in Japan, known as Mr.Clean, had been speaking of the need for a change in Japanese outlook, attitudes and policies. In fact, he is reportedly fond of collecting pictures and stone images of frogs and displaying them prominently as curios. It is said that the word in the Japanese language for a frog also means 'change'. He wanted to underline his determination to bring about a change.

2. His name is Katsuya Okada. He is 56 years old. He took over as the new Foreign Minister of Japan in the Cabinet of Prime Minister YukioHatoyama, which took office in Tokyo on September 16,2009. Both India and China should have reasons to be gratified by his being appointed as the Foreign Minister. More than other Japanese leaders,Okada has been saying for some years that it is time for Japan to be
less and less US-centric and more and more Asia-centric. For him, Asia means India and China and then other countries.

3. When he was head of the Democratic Partry of Japan (DPJ) before 2005 and in that capacity led the party to the elections to the lower House of the Diet in 2005, China and India were the flavour of the DPJ's manifesto, drafted under his leadership. It said of India and China: "The most important element in building a peaceful and prosperous Asia is the rise of China. Depending on China's future course of action, the rise of China can be an opportunity for greater peace and prosperity in Asia, on one hand, or a risk bringing confusion and stagnation, on
the other hand. It will be greatly in Japan's interest if China maintains its sustainable growth; while properly addressing its environmental and energy problems; overcomes social crises to consolidate political stability; and, contributes, as a major power, to the peace and prosperity of Asia, becoming a responsible force in the region. India is expected to be a nucleus of Asian economic development in the
21st century along with Japan, China, South Korea, and ASEAN. It projects a unique charisma not only as an economic, demographic, and cultural/ philosophical giant but also as a huge democracy.Establishing and maintaining a close relationship, including strategic, with this India will be in the national interests of Japan and will expand Japan's diplomatic options."

4. India "projects a unique charisma not only as an economic, demographic, and cultural/ philosophical giant but also as a huge democracy." These were his words of 2005. The Chinese were also very pleased by what the manifesto of 2005 had to say about Japan's imperial past:"The Japanese must bear in mind that the offended will not easily forget the pain and humiliation, while the offenders are liable to amnesia. It is absolutely undeniable, as recorded in Prime Minister Murayama's remark of August 15, 1995, that Japan's invasion and occupation brought tremendous loss and pain to our neighboring countries. After honestly and humbly reflecting on our past conduct, we must work determinedly to build a future-oriented relationship with our Asian neighbors. This will be a common perception within the new Japanese
government and the center pillar of its foreign policy. In this spirit, the new government will open a new national facility to pay tribute to past war victims as well as any future casualties of international lines of duty. It will also work steadily to strengthen joint initiatives with neighboring countries toward achieving a shared perception of historical issues."

5. If the DPJ had won the elections in 2005,India and China would have received priority attention in a Cabinet headed by Okada.Unfortunately, it did badly in the elections and Okada resigned from the leadership of the Party. Under Hatoyama, who took over the party leadership in May last, Okada's warm references to India disappeared from the manifesto of 2009. Despite his being the Secretary-General of
the Party, Okada was apparently unable to make Hatoyama think of India too while finalising the manifesto. The only reference to India in it was not in the section on foreign policy, but in the section on environment under climate change.

6. Will Okada, as Foreign Minister, reiterate the importance of Indo-Japanese strategic relationship as part of the new Government's over-all strategic architecture? That is the question to which we in India should be looking for an answer. I have been reading the English language media reports from Tokyo ever since the DPJ won its historic victory in the recent elections. Hatoyama was very active in getting to know the heads of many diplomatic missions in Tokyo. The Heads of missions of the US, Russia, China and South Korea prominently figured in
reports on his meetings with the diplomatic corps. I did not find the name of the Head of the Indian mission. One hopes it was an omission by the media and not by Hatoyama. There is, however, one important news, if it is correct. Hatoyama is planning a visit to India in December.

7. A word of caution about Okada would be in order. He used to believe that in order to stop Pakistani nuclear proliferation activites,attention needed to be paid to solving the Kashmir dispute. He reportedly believed that so long as the Kashmir dispute remained unresolved, Pakistan would continue to add to his nuclear arsenal by hook or by crook.

8. Some interesting quotes from Okada's pre-election interviews:

"Japan will continue to see the US as its most important ally but won't be as subservient as it has been in the past.It's like Japan hasn't had its own diplomacy, or its own opinions." (Associated Press)

"First, we should create a relationship of trust between the leaders of the two countries, then set bilateral priorities, including on global issues such as global warming and poverty, and discuss in what order to try to resolve them." (Reuters)

"First, Japan itself must properly assess the fact that it embarked on that wretched, foolish war. In that sense, our position is quite different from that of successive LDP governments." (Reuters)

9.Okada, who is the son of a supermarket owner, had studied in the Harvard University. He started his political career in the Liberal Democratic Party, which he left in 1993. An often-mentioned negative streak in him is that he has had the reputation of being inflexibly rigid.The DPJ has an absolute majority in the lower House, but not in the upper House where it will have to depend on the smaller Social
Democratic Party (SDP) and the People's New Party (PNP), both of which have a strong anti-US agenda. Since in Japan the two Houses have almost equal powers, no policy changes can be implemented without the support of the upper House. Okada may have to makecompromises on certain issues. The two smaller parties supporting the coalition may not support a high-profile foreign policy role for Japan.Flexibility in dealing with them might be required. Hatoyama has the reputation of being more flexible and willing to make compromises than Okada. (17-9-09)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )



Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser and assistant to US President Barack Obama, accompanied by Maria Otero, the Undersecretary for Democracy and Global Affairs in the US State Department, visited Dharamshala on September 14,2009, and met His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Samdhong Rinpoche, the Prime Minister of the Tibetan-Government-in-exile.

2. His Holiness is to visit the US next month in response to long-pending invitations from US non-Governmental organisations supporting the Tibetan cause. During the course of his stay, he had also planned to visit Washington DC and his supporters in the US were trying to arrange a courtesy call on President Barack Obama. His Holiness and his advisers were hopeful of the courtesy call materialising despite opposition from China.

3. This was the first time that a team of US officials including a Presidential aide had visited Dharamshala before a planned visit by His Holiness to Washington DC. This gave rise to euphoric expectations in Dharamshala that the US officials were coming to finalise the details of a meeting with Obama. There was considerable disappointment in the entourage of His Holiness when it turned out that the two officials had specially flown to Dharamshala to request His Holiness not to visit Washington DC before Obama's first visit to China scheduled for November. Obama is reportedly worried that any meeting with His Holiness before his visit to China might spoil the atmosphere for his talks with the Chinese leaders.

4.The two officials are reported to have sought the understanding of His Holiness for the inability of Obama to meet His Holiness before his visit to China.They are reported to have suggested that during his visit to the US next month His Holiness should avoid any high-profile visit to Washington. They are also reported to have promised that during his talks with the Chinese leaders, Obama would take up the issue of the revival of the dialogue between Chinese officials and the aides of His Holiness and that he would inform His Holiness of the results of his talks on Tibet in Beijing after his return to Washington DC. They said that a fresh date for the visit of His Holiness to Washington could be discussed after the President returns from China.

5. There is palpable disappointment in the entourage of His Holiness over the lack of enthusiasm of Obama for a meeting with His Holiness, which became evident during the discussions with the two US officials. The disappointment was evident in the remarks of Samdhong Rinpoche to journalists on September 15. He said: "A lot of nations are adopting a policy of appeasement (towards China). Even the US
Government is doing some kind of appeasement.Today, economic interests are much greater than other interests."

6. However, Rinpoche added: " I understand why Obama is not meeting the Dalai Lama before his Chinese trip. It is common sense.Obama should not irritate the Chinese leadership. China's greatest irritation is His Holiness, wherever he goes."

7.His Holiness is going ahead with his plans to visit Arunachal Pradesh in November, which could more or less coincide with Obama's visit to China. The US officials were reported to be worried that the Chinese anger over the Dalai Lama's visit to Arunachal Pradesh might come in the way of the success of Obama's promised efforts to persuade Beijing to resume its dialogue with His Holiness. It is not clear whether they gave any advice to His Holiness in this matter. It is also not yet clear whether the Dalai Lama will go ahead with his visit to Washington next
month to meet his Congressional supporters or cut it out of his itinerary in the US.

8. To lessen the obvious disappointment in Dharamshala,Jarrett assured His Holiness of Obama's interest in protecting the human rights of the Tibetans. A statement issued by the office of His Holiness said: "She (Jarrett) reiterated President Obama's commitment to support the Tibetan people in protecting their distinct religious, linguistic, and cultural heritage and securing respect for their human rights and civil liberties.She said the President commends the Dalai Lama for being consistent in looking for a solution based on Tibetan autonomy with the People's Republic of China.She discussed with His Holiness the best way the US could assist in the resolution for the Tibetan issue,particularly in the light of the first visit by President Obama to China in November. "(16-9-09)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )