Japan's participation in Bangladesh's development -The Asian Age

Since independence of Bangladesh in 1971, Japan has been consistently participating in the development process of Bangladesh. The people of Japan have a strong affinity towards Bangladesh. Despite of all changes in Bangladeshi domestic politics and diplomatic stance, Japan, being first among industrialized nations, recognized Bangladesh on 10 February 1972.

Though relations of Bangladesh with other countries and regions changed dramatically depending on international politics and fluctuating economic relations, Japan has had consistently maintained a very significant, effective and stable relations characterized by mutual trust and cordial friendship with and actively committed to the Bangladesh's efforts in development.

The epitome of existing mutual understanding and cordial relations between the people of Bangladesh and Japan has a historical back up. According to Professor Tsuyoshi Nara one of the earliest evidence of close contacts between the two peoples goes back to around four hundred years when Japanese fine artists carried back a widely used colour from Bengal to Japan, still known as Bengaru (Bengal) colour.

The foundation of this bondage between the two nations is euphorically established on four commonalities  - food habit as they  are fond of rice and fish, religious reminiscences as Buddhism migrated to Japan from this land, anthropological affinity as they look alike in physical appearance  and natural harmony as both land have mountains and sea , rivers and greenery.

Close contacts between these two nations go back to the early years of the twentieth century, when Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1942), who visited Japan six times  and Tenshin Okakura (1862-1913), a distinguished Japanese fine arts scholar, and Taikan Yokoyama, a Japanese master of painting, profoundly affected and influenced each other's work through their friendship. During the hundred years of twentieth century only Bengali and Japanese writers got Nobel prize in literature in Asia -one is a  Bangalee  Rabindranath Tagore   in 1913  and two others are Japanese Yansunary Kawabata (1899 -1972)  in 1968 and Kenjaburey Oe (1935-)| in 1994.

Close political relations between the two countries cemented in the perspectives of anti British Revolutionary Movement, particularly through Rash Behari Bose, a Bengali revolutionary leader. Japan became the main centre of the Bengali revolutioneries in exile.

On 16th February 1942, General Tojo, the then Prime Minister of Japan in a declaration supported the cause of Indian independence. Japan had active support in the matter of creation of "Azad Hind Fouj" by Rash Behari Bose and with the taking over the post of Commander in Chief of AHF by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose (1897-1945).

An event of the World War II  attracted the attention of the Japanese people very respectfully towards the Bengali, when Dr Radha Binode Paul (?-1967) , a lone Judge of the International Military Court (Tokyo 1946-48 ) did not consider Japan guilty of war crime. Dr Justice Paul born in Salimpur of Kushtia district in present Bangladesh, the Justice of the Calcutta High Court (1941-43) and then the ViceCchancellor of Calcutta University (1943-44) was appointed one of the Judges of the Military Court. This historical verdict of Justice Paul aroused a sense of relief, courage and strength in the minds of the Japanese people.

As Tagore, Bose and Paul all were Bangalees, the Japanese people have had special regards, respects and fellow feeling for the people of Bengal comparing than to people of other regions in India. After the recovery from Second World War Japanese economic assistance and investment first came to the then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) before any other part of India.

In 1971, the Japanese people and the government became very much sympathetic and helpful in the matter of freedom struggle of Bangladesh, though at that time Japan was an ardent ally of USA. Immediately after the recognition Japan dispatched an economic mission under leadership of Takeshi Hayakawa (1917-1982) to Bangladesh to stand by her in rebuilding and rehabilitating war ravaged economy.

Since the establishment of diplomatic ties between Bangladesh and Japan, Japan has been extending its aid assistance to Bangladesh. Japanese ODA for Bangladesh has been focused less conditional, favorable to the development and realization of her aim for self-reliance and poverty alleviation and development of infrastructure.  When we look at the Aid commitment and disbursement position of Japan's ODA to Bangladesh, it reveals a vivid picture of Japan's leading trend of Japanese participation in the development process of Bangladesh.

At the reconstruction and rehabilitation stage the participation was   providing ODA to Bangladesh, initially more in the form of Food Aid, Commodity Aid and Project Aid. Among the 20 major international donors providing economic assistance to Bangladesh, Japan stands just after IDA (International Development Association) but bilaterally the largest development partner of Bangladesh.

Japan, the second largest economy and technologically the most advanced nation in the world, has been able to project its positive image as the leading development partner of Bangladesh. donor globally. Over the years, the relationship and economic cooperation between these two Asian countries have been growing stronger and stronger. Since 1985 Bangladesh has ranked first as the recipient of Japan's Grant Aid (roughly 10% of Japan's total grant aid) with a moderate rate of increase annually.

The Foreign Aid Flow chart reflects that over the period of 1971/72 to June 2009, Bangladesh received a total grant of US$ 3287.820 million and a total amount of loans of US$ 3671.632 was disbursed from Japan which stands the highest among the 20 major donors. Out of this amount total Project Aid disbursement stands at US$ 2905.289 million bilaterally from Japan and which is the highest among all the development partners. 

Till 1976, Japanese ODA was dominated by the Food and Commodity Aid, and there after the Project Assistance started increasing gradually. Unto 1980, the volume of Food and Commodity Aid was greater than Project Aid. The table reveals the fact that Food Aid stands the lowest in comparison to Commodity and to Project Aid, and it is only of 7.62% of the total Grant Aid amount and Food loan is of 4.75% of total loan disbursed over the said period. Again over the period, Japan has the second leading position in terms of Food Aid disbursement to Bangladesh, after the USA.

In the initial years (1971-1976), Bangladesh had to have Food Aid largely in the form of grant because of its food shortage due to war and post-war situations, but gradually she attained her food sufficiency through some special internal policy programs like income growth/self-reliance movement/ Green Revolution being supported heavily by the high fertility rate of her lands and adoption of Multi-crop Diversified Agricultural and Irrigation system, the declining birth rate achieved through successful Family Planning Programs over the decades.

The Aid Flow chart also shows that out of whole of Japanese ODA ( $ 6959.452 Million) disbursed to Bangladesh over the period of 1971-June 2009, the amount of loan was US$ 3671.632 million  (51.64 % ) . It also reveals an increasing rate of commodity loan. This type of loan has been used to assist the balance of payments and fiscal revenue and to purchase/import raw materials and intermediary goods, machineries in order to provide support to the productive sectors and some priority projects.

As macroeconomic management, commodity loans have been found contributing and supporting to the generation of foreign exchange by selling imported goods and to meet up the local cost of some projects. It is fact that Japan as donor and Bangladesh as the recipient country thrusts their importance on the effective appraisal, planning and formulation procedures and implementation and utilization of commodity loans and supply of necessary goods in the aid package with realistic commitment and feasible conditionality.

In terms of development process Bangladesh has been benefited by the Japanese Debt Relief Grant Assistance (DRGA) arrangements and through this type of mechanism, Bangladesh gets back the amount she pays to Japan in the form of debt servicing in accordance with the decision undertaken in the Board of Trade and Development of UNCTAD in its session of 12 March 1978.

The GOJ adopted Debt Relief Measures in the form of JDCF (Japan Debt Cancellation Fund) which replaced the earlier DRGA. A Note of Exchange was signed between Bangladesh and Japan on 21 March, 2004 in this regard. Under this JDCF, Bangladesh will be getting the benefit of Debt Cancellation of about US$ 160 million each year up to the year of 2018.

Japanese Technical Assistance and Cooperation to Bangladesh is also appreciable. JICA has extended its technical cooperation through funding and implementing Technical Cooperation Projects in Bangladesh in the prime sectors of Education, Health, Environment, Disaster Management, Agriculture and Rural Development, Power, Transport and also in private sector over the last two decades.

The Government of Japan sent around 800 survey teams, more than 300 Experts Dispatched , trained about 1800 Bangladeshi participants, dispatched 267 JOCVs, a total of 21794 persons over the period of 2000-2009 for which spent around 14 billion Yen including some equipment of around 700 million  Yen. 

Agreement on technical cooperation between Japan and Bangladesh was signed in 2002 for promotion of bilateral technical cooperation. There remains huge scope of strengthening technical cooperation between both the countries including transfer of advanced and appropriate technology to Bangladesh and utilization of Bangladeshi human resource in Small and Medium Enterprises as well as in ICT in Japan.

Bilateral relationship between Bangladesh and Japan has also been enhanced in other areas, especially in trade and investment. Japan has been one of major destinations for Bangladeshi goods. In recent years, shoes, prawns, garments and leather goods are major export products to Japan. Bangladesh is trying diversifying export and developing more export oriented industries. These very constructive measures will improve the existing situation and open up a new window of opportunities for trade and investment between two friendly countries.

Japan strongly support that Bangladesh, in her development process, to make further headway in poverty reduction with a view to attaining the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and for that purpose, Bangladesh must (1) expand and stabilize its basis of growth driven by the private sector, (2) expand social development, and (3) improve governance. In particular, Japan upholds that, it is necessary to provide cooperation bearing in mind the perspective of human security while promoting social development.

Standing on the above-mentioned basic stance, Japan considers the bilateral relations always is of vital importance in the following three aspects, in view of the changes in the international community as the end of the Cold War, globalization, promotion of economic partnerships and growing interest in development issues, Bangladesh's role against this background and socioeconomic changes taking place in Bangladesh and Japan. (February 10, 2019 marked the 47th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between Bangladesh and Japan.)

The writer is a formerly secretary to the GoB and Ex-chairman, National Board
of Revenue.
Email: mazid.muhammad@gmail.com