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I hope to contribute in further strengthening Indo-Japan bilateral ties: Nakamura Yutaka

Nakamura Yutaka assumed office as Consul-General of Japan in Kolkata on July 1, after the departure of his predecessor in early June. As the new chief of one of the oldest Japanese diplomatic missions, he is happy to work towards strengthening India-Japan bilateral ties, which has reached new heights in the recent past.

Excerpts from an interview by Monika P Lahiri of Millennium Post:

Where have you worked before? Have you been to India before?

I moved to Kolkata from Atlanta, USA, where I was the Deputy Consul-General. Prior to that, I have worked in San Francisco, Australia, Fiji, Ghana, Uganda and Bangladesh. Although this is my first assignment in India, I have visited India several times during 1995 – 97, when I was in-charge of development cooperation with India, in Japan's foreign ministry.

How has been your experience of Kolkata since you arrived? Do you like the food here?

As I arrived in Kolkata amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, I am yet to start exploring the city, and could only see the well-known places of interest from inside my vehicle. Also, I have been unable to visit restaurants in the city and try various dishes so far.

However, I am enjoying some Indian dishes being prepared by my official chef, who is an Indian national with expertise in Japanese cuisine, also having previous work experience of Indian cuisine in several hotels of repute. I must tell you that I have heard about the hospitality and warm nature of the people of Kolkata, it's diverse cuisine practices and rich heritage, and look forward to such meaningful experiences. I sincerely hope the pandemic situation will subside soon and normalcy will return to all our lives.

What is your impression of the significance of India, particularly Kolkata, in Japan's history and present?

While unravelling India-Japan history, I came to know that Buddhist culture, which was developed in Japan, has origins in India. Also, Rabindranath Tagore who visited Japan 5 times and contributed to India Japan friendship and cooperation, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose who was compassionate towards Japan and became its ally during the World War 2, and Justice Radhabinod Pal who showed in-depth understanding of Japan during Tokyo Trials and strengthened its bond with India after the war, all have roots in Kolkata.

I feel Kolkata has a strong bond with Japan and I look forward to various kinds of meaningful exchanges. It has a legacy of being the cultural hub of India and is a gateway to intellectual and cultural exchanges between India and Japan.

Do you have any suggestions regarding dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic situation?

We should avoid the 3 C's: Closed spaces, Crowded places and Close-contact settings. The risk of cluster occurrence is particularly high when the 3 C's overlap.

In addition, people should wear masks whenever they step out of home, and articles used by many people must be frequently sanitised. Fortunately, the existing technology is already facilitating many people to seamlessly work from home, inter-organisation virtual business meetings and webinars. Such technology must keep getting developed so as to increase its scope and keep the economy alive with minimum physical movement of the workforce.

What kind of future plans do you have in strengthening Indo-Japan ties?

Japan and India are continuing to enjoy excellent relations as "Special Strategic and Global Partner", a key relationship with the largest potential for growth, into a deep, broad-based and action-oriented partnership, which reflects a broad convergence of their long-term political, economic and strategic goals.

I hope to contribute in further strengthening the political, security, economic and cultural relations and will try to expand Japanese investments in Eastern India, focussing on West Bengal.

How can Indo-Japan diplomatic relations be maintained during this difficult period?

Indo-Japan diplomatic relations continue to maintain its bond of friendship even during this challenging time arising out of COVID-19 pandemic. On May 7, the foreign ministers of both countries had a telephonic meeting and shared the view to further cooperate in the repatriation of their nationals staying in each other's country. The two Ministers exchanged views on their respective countries' international cooperation in relation to COVID-19 prevention measures and confirmed that Japan and India will continue to work together closely.

In fact, the COVID-19 has pushed Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) consisting of the four Indo-Pacific democracies – Japan, India, US and Australia to also act on non-traditional security objectives with an aim to ensure human security against the scourge of the Coronavirus.

Again, for your information, an online India Japan business forum was also organized on 26 August in order to further boost the investment from Japan to India for contributing to the global supply chain.

Has there been any recent development at the bilateral level during this pandemic time?

In most recent instance, on 31 August, the Ambassador of Japan to India, Suzuki, signed an Exchange of Notes with Dr. C S Mohapatra, Additional Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance, Government of India to provide 50 billion Yen (approx INR 3,450 crore @INR 0.69/yen) emergency support loan to India towards her fight against COVID-19 in the country. It will lead to development of hospitals equipped with ICUs, stronger control measures to prevent infection and enhancement of telemedicine facilities using digital technology across the villages in India.

In addition to the soft loan assistance, Japan has also come forward to provide 1 billion Yen (approx INR 69 crore @INR 0.69/yen) Grant Aid to India under the 'Economic and Social Development Programme' of our government's Official Development Assistance (ODA) scheme.

The grant will be used by India to set-up Oxygen Generators for the treatment of critically ill COVID-19 afflicted patients. I believe Japan's gesture towards India at this critical phase will not only strengthen India's infectious disease countermeasures but also reinforce our mutual bond of friendship and cooperation.

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