Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman paid an official visit to Japan from 18 to 24 October 1973 at the invitation of the Japanese government. Bangabandhu was accorded a red carpet reception when he arrived at the ‘land of the rising sun’ on 18 October. As the Bangladesh Biman Boeing carrying the undisputed leader of 75 million Bangalees landed at the Tokyo Airport, a large number of people present there burst into prolonged applause. The Prime Minister of Japan Mr. Kakuei Tanaka, flanked by Mrs. Tanaka and Foreign Minister Mr. Ohira, came to the ramp to greet Bangabandhu. This was his first visit to Japan as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh.
During that visit, Bangabandhu was received by their Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan at the Imperial Palace. The bilateral meeting was held between the two Prime Ministers. Besides, Prime Minister Tanaka hosted a dinner at his official residence in honour of Bangabandhu.The bilateral talks between the two Prime Ministers were held in a frank and cordial atmosphere. The two leaders agreed that the talks were most opportune and useful in strengthening the friendly relations between the two countries, which would enable the expansion of exchanges in the economic, cultural, scientific and other fields. They discussed the current international situation and welcomed the recent signs of detente.
The two Prime Ministers recognised the importance of maintaining peace and promotion of prosperity in Asia to world peace and agreed that the two governments would work together closely in achieving that objective.
The Bangladesh Prime Minister explained the basic elements of his government's non-aligned and independent foreign policy and in that context stated that Bangladesh desired to develop friendly bilateral relations with all countries of the world on the basis of the principles of sovereign equality, non-interference in internal affairs and mutuality of interests. He stated that one of the principal objectives of the foreign policy of Bangladesh was to forge close ties with its neighbouring countries in South East Asia and explained various initiatives taken by Bangladesh in this regard. The Japanese Prime Minister welcomed that orientation in the foreign policy of Bangladesh.
Bangabandhu explained the forward-looking and constructive policy pursued by his government in regard to normalisation of relations in the South Asian sub-continent. In this context, he informed Mr. Tanaka of his Government’s positive contribution to the conclusion of the agreement signed in New Delhi on 28 August 1973. Prime Minister Tanaka paid his deep respect to Bangabandhu for his outstanding statesmanship which contributed in a great measure to the settlement of the humanitarian issues in the sub-continent. Both leaders expressed their hope that in the interest of the establishment of durable peace in the region, the other pending issues would also be resolved soon through negotiations among the countries concerned on the basis of sovereign equality. In this connection, Premier Tanaka said that the Government of Japan had decided to contribute one million US dollars to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to assist the repatriation of those people covered by the above agreement.
Discussing the ongoing situation in the Middle East, the two leaders expressed the hope that a just and lasting peace would be established at the earliest possible moment in that region.
Bangabandhu expressed his gratitude for the assistance and cooperation so far extended by Japan in various forms and also for its support to Bangladesh in international forums. He explained the problems Bangladesh was facing in the task of rehabilitation and economic development, and in that context, outlined the aims and objectives of his Government's First Five Year Plan. The Japanese Premier, expressing his sympathetic understanding of the problems Bangladesh was facing, paid his deep respect to the people of Bangladesh for their earnest efforts for rehabilitation and development under the illustrious leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and stated that the Government of Japan would continue to extend as much cooperation as possible to support such efforts.Mr. Tanaka mentioned that considering the actual economic situation of Bangladesh, the Government of Japan would extend to the Government of Bangladesh a commodity loan amounting to nine billion yen on the softest terms that Japan had ever accorded to any developing country. Both leaders agreed that necessary steps would be taken without delay by the officials of the two governments to affect the above loan. In addition, they agreed that their officials would soon hold discussions on the Japanese cooperation to be extended for the implementation of such projects as the ones ongoing with previous Japanese assistance which urgently needed additional funds.
Explaining the importance the Government of Bangladesh attached to the building of a bridge over the river Jamuna, Bangabandhu said that the bridge would help integrate the economy of Bangladesh. Both leaders noted with satisfaction that the feasibility study was being carried out by the Japanese authority.
Bangabandhu expressed his sincere gratitude for the timely supply of Japanese rice to Bangladesh under the Food Aid Convention and on a long-term credit basis, and hoped that the supply of rice by Japan would continue in the future. The Japanese Premier stated that, in view of the current food situation in Bangladesh, the Government of Japan would consider supplying rice to Bangladesh on a grant basis under the Food Aid Convention within the budgetary appropriation for the Japanese fiscal year 1973.
Bangabandhu explained the importance of agriculture in the economy of Bangladesh with special emphasis on the efforts of its development being made by the Government and people of Bangladesh to achieve self-sufficiency in food. He expressed his appreciation for the Japanese assistance extended to Bangladesh so far. Recognising the importance of agriculture in Bangladesh, the Japanese leader said that the Government of Japan was willing to expand cooperation in that field.
The two leaders discussed the ways to consolidate the economic ties between Japan and Bangladesh. They agreed that discussions between their officials should promptly be initiated for measures conducive to the promotion of trade and other economic relations between the two countries.
The two Prime Ministers also agreed that their governments would encourage the exchange of economic delegations with a view to promoting trade and economic relations between the two countries. Mr. Tanaka stated that his Government would send an economic delegation shortly to Bangladesh to explore the ways for promotion of a wide range of economic exchanges between Japan and Bangladesh. Bangabandhu welcomed the decision.
The two leaders agreed that the officials of their governments would hold discussions on ways and means to expand exchanges between the two countries in the cultural and educational fields. They also agreed that their officials would hold consultative meetings from time to time to discuss matters of mutual interest.
Prime Minister Tanaka stated that the visit of Bangabandhu to Japan had laid a solid foundation for the lasting friendly relations between the two countries as well as the two peoples.
On 18 October afternoon, Bangabandhu visited the Embassy of Bangladesh in Tokyo. There he talked to the Embassy officials and expatriate Bangalees. At the Embassy, Bangabandhu accepted ‘token gifts’ of money, clothes, books and pencils for the school children of Bangladesh from the Japanese school children. The Japanese children had saved this money from their pocket money for the children of Bangladesh. Bangabandhu said that these gifts would be remembered. He offered his good wishes to all the children of Japan.
On 20 October, Bangabandhu visited the Civil Engineering Research Institute in connection with his plans for Japanese companies’ participation in building a bridge over the river Jamuna connecting northern districts with the capital. He talked to the top executives of the Institute about the construction of the bridge. He also expressed his hope that in view of the Japanese Government’s keen interest to help Bangladesh in constructing the bridge, the Institute would be able to utilise its vast experience.
We know that a team of Japanese experts, before Bangabandhu’s visit to Japan, had visited Bangladesh to undertake a survey of the areas where the bridge would be constructed. That team had also submitted a report on the bridge to their government.
On 23 October, Prime Minister Tanaka hosted a banquet in honour of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. In his speech, Mr. Tanaka said that Japan had extended assistance with food and clothes on humanitarian ground on an emergency basis. Paying tribute to the leadership of Bangabandhu, he said that he firmly believed that the determined Bangalee nation under the great leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman would march forward towards reconstruction. Expressing his hope, he said, “You will reach your desired goal soon.”
Mr. Tanaka said that he could appreciate the efforts of the Bangalee nation for development of their country since the Japanese after the Second World War had to reconstruct their country through trials, tribulations and sufferings.
He said that although the relations between the countries comparatively might be new, but both countries had glorious past. He also referred the cyclone of 1970, liberation struggle and in its wake tremendous sufferings and hardship the people had to undergo and said that despite this, he was very glad to know from the Prime Minister of Bangladesh that his Government and people had dedicated themselves to the national reconstruction. Premier Tanaka expressed his hope that the visit of Bangabandhu had been very fruitful and pleasant.
Bangabandhu, in his speech, said that the people of Bangladesh recalled with gratitude the sympathy and support extended to Bangladesh and its people by the people of Japan during the critical days of the Liberation War of Bangladesh as well as the generous assistance extended after liberation. He also appreciated the support extended to Bangladesh by Japan in various international forums including the United Nations. He said, “The relations between our two countries are already marked by a feeling of deep understanding and friendship, and I sincerely hope that the areas of cooperation between our two countries in various fields will expand progressively.”
While appreciating the progress Japan had made, Bangabandhu said, “We have been watching with profound admiration and if I may say so, with a sense of pride as fellow Asian, the tremendous achievement of Japan in social and economic fields which constitute one of the most powerful influences of our time. At the heart of the spectacular achievement is the emphasis that Japan laid on the maximum utilisation of human resources creativity and ingenuity of man, his tenacity and resilience, his sense of discipline and dedication, all directed towards a great national end. All this also is a tribute to the wisdom and dynamism of leadership”
Bangabandhu said the vision of Japanese Prime Minister that ‘every home is filled with laughter where senior citizens live peaceful and restful lives, where the eyes of youth shine bright with the light of hope’, a security ‘which enjoys a sense of tranquillity and spiritual enrichment’ was one that not only held promise for Japan, but reflected the basic yearnings of his own people.
While speaking on Bangladesh, Bangabandhu said, “The experience of Japan cannot but holds lessons for other countries such as ours. The people of Bangladesh, who suffered neglect and exploitation at the hands of colonial rulers for generations are now engaged in a relentless struggle to eradicate hunger, poverty, disease and illiteracy – problems which have been severely aggravated by the terrible ravages and destruction suffered during the liberation war of 1971. We can fulfil this task only if we make up for lost time by accelerating the pace of productivity of our rich and fertile lands, by managing, controlling and harnessing our water resources, and by developing and utilising to the maximum our vast human resources.”
Noting Japan as the source of inspiration, Bangabandhu said, “In this task, we are inspired to a great extent by the dramatic post-war recovery of Japan in record time. Optimum utilisation of available resources and manpower, through rigorous discipline social and political, and an unparallel education system has transformed Japan into one of the leading economic powers in the world. We are also inspired by the fact that like the people of Japan, the people of Bangladesh enjoy an unique homogeneity of culture, race and language, that following the experience of Japan, can be turned into a major social and economic force.”
Appreciating Tanaka’s leadership, Bangabandhu said, “We are encouraged by the importance which you personally and your Government have attached to the need for Japan to play a larger role in helping the developing countries. We believe this follows from Japan’s commitment to creating an environment of peace in Asia and indeed its commitment to world peace. There is no doubt that with the unique social and economic progress achieved by Japan, she is in a position to play a vital role in fighting the greatest problem of our time – the problem of reducing the gap between the developed and developing countries.”
As Bangladesh was attaching great value to economic cooperation with Japan, Bangabandhu said, “I would also like to stress that we look to Japanese cooperation and assistance not only in respect of large schemes of projects of immediate and vital importance, but also in fields where the economic experience of Japan has shown how human ingenuity can be utilised to speed up economic transformation. Your experience in the area of population control, your unique success in maximising agricultural production, as well as your abhorrence of west, faith in classic simplicity, intellectual curiosity and superior technical education – all these offer scope for cooperation and transmission of experience to countries such as Bangladesh.”
In the conclusion, Bangabandhu said that he would carry back with him for his people the inspiration of a mighty industrial country which had also succeeded in retaining in a very special manner the charm, dignity and serenity of a rich historical heritage. He also said that he would carry back the impression of a vigorous and powerful leadership which had a clear vision of the future, not only the future of Japan, but also that of Asia and the whole world. Bangabandhu ended by expressing his sincere thanks to the Prime Minister, the Government and the people of Japan for the warmth they had extended during his visit.
In an interview with NHK Broadcasting Corporation of Japan on 23 October, Bangabandhu said that guided by the principle of non-alignment and neutral foreign policy, Bangladesh wanted to live in peace and co-existence. He said that Bangladesh was committed to peace and was anxious to grow and develop friendly bilateral relations with all countries of the world.
The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary.