New Delhi: “I would like to emphasise today to the people of India that the Japanese people stand ready to work together with the Indian people so that this spirit of tolerance becomes the leading principle of this century… I come before you on behalf of the citizens of another democracy that is equally representing Asia, to speak to you about my views on the future of Japan and India”.
These were the words spoken by former Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in a seminal speech — “Confluence of Two Seas” — he delivered to India’s Parliament in August 2007, during his first visit to the country as PM.
Shinzo Abe passed away Friday, hours after he was shot while campaigning for a parliamentary election in the city of Nara, east of Osaka. This was the first assassination of a sitting or former Japanese PM since the 1930s.
His shocking murder precipitated an outpouring of international sympathy, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi declaring a one-day national mourning Saturday in remembrance of his “dear friend”.
I am shocked and saddened beyond words at the tragic demise of one of my dearest friends, Shinzo Abe. He was a towering global statesman, an outstanding leader, and a remarkable administrator. He dedicated his life to make Japan and the world a better place.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) July 8, 2022
Abe was Japan’s longest-serving prime minister with his tenure spanning two terms – 2006-07 and 2012-20.
During both stints, Abe prioritised relations with India and played an instrumental role in revitalising the strategic and economic partnership between both countries.
Shinzo Abe visited India four times during his two terms as prime minister. He was the first Japanese prime minister to be the chief guest at Republic Day celebrations in 2014.
‘Confluence of Two Seas’
Abe quoted Swami Vivekananda at the beginning of his speech, alluding to the divergence in India and Japan’s worldviews, but also underscoring a common “Asianism” which united them.
He enshrined this contrast in Swami Vivekananda’s words: “The different streams, having their sources in different places, all mingle their water in the sea.”
Unpacking the stage of bilateral relations that India and Japan found themselves at, Abe quoted the title of Mughal prince Darah Shikoh’s book, “Confluence of the Two Seas”, as he stressed that the Pacific and the Indian Ocean were coming together to form a sea of “freedom and of prosperity”.
‘Japan and India have always attracted one another’
Alluding to the plethora of interactions between India and Japan over the years, Abe explained how Japanese scholar and art critic Tenshin Okakura was influenced and guided by Swami Vivekananda and his teachings.
Abe also said Okakura enjoyed a close friendship with Sister Nivedita, Vivekananda’s loyal disciple and a distinguished social reformer.
Abe also mentioned the ties of Subhas Chandra Bose and Rabindranath Tagore with Japan. He said, “Be it the person whose name now graces Kolkata’s international airport (Chandra Bose), or, going back a bit further in time, the ageless poet Rabindranath Tagore — were engaged in at the deepest level of their soul with their Japanese contemporaries.”
“Indeed, the depth and the richness of the exchanges that the intellectual leaders of Japan and India enjoyed during the early modern age are in some ways beyond what we in the modern day can imagine,” Abe added.
“From the reign of Ashoka the Great to Mahatma Gandhi’s Satyagraha movement of nonviolent resistance, the Japanese people are well aware of the unbroken spirit of tolerance in Indian spiritual history,” Abe said.
He added the Japanese people had “undergone ‘the discovery of India’, by which I mean we have rediscovered India as a partner that shares the same values and interests and also as a friend that will work alongside us to enrich the seas of freedom and prosperity, which will be open and transparent to all”.
Abe had set the stage for economic ties between India and Japan that were developing and would continue to flourish.
Push for security cooperation
Apart from stressing that India and Japan had commonalities in ideology and values, Abe also said the strategic aspect of relations was integral.
Abe added the “The Strategic Global Partnership of Japan and India” was integral to promoting security, stability and prosperity in Asia.
A significant aspect of the speech touched on what would become the Quad between India, Japan, Australia, and the US.
In a clear reference to what transformed into the Indo-Pacific framework and the Quad, Abe said, “By Japan and India coming together, this ‘broader Asia’ will evolve into an immense network spanning the entirety of the Pacific Ocean, incorporating the United States of America and Australia. Open and transparent, this network will allow people, goods, capital, and knowledge to flow freely.”
Shinzo Abe concluded, “Now, as this new ‘broader Asia’ takes shape at the confluence of the two seas of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, I feel that it is imperative that the democratic nations located at opposite edges of these seas deepen the friendship among their citizens at every possible level.”