Vol. 5 Num 696 Mon. May 15, 2006  

Masayuki Inoue - Ambassador designate of Japan to Bangladesh
"In any democratic procedure election is very important"
Masayuki Inoue was born in Tokyo in October 1948. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in April 1973 after graduating from Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, where he mastered in Persian language and culture. A year later he moved to the Ministry of Education, Science, Sports and Culture and served in various capacities until being assigned Ambassador of Japan to the People's Republic of Bangladesh last April. He is scheduled to reach Bangladesh on May 15 to take up his new assignment. Prior to his departure for Dhaka he talked to The Daily Star's Monzurul Huq in Tokyo where he reflected on various issues ranging from bilateral relations between Japan and Bangladesh to his expectations as the new Japanese Ambassador.

Monzurul Huq: Excellency, do you speak some Bengali? I am asking you this question right at the beginning because I read in your profile that you have studied Indian and Pakistani languages when you were a student at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies.

Ambassador Inoue: I do not speak much Bengali. The main language that I have learned at the university was Persian. I understand there are many Persian words in your language. For example, your numbering probably follows the Persian pattern. One word that I recall right now is slowly, which in Bengali you say "aste, aste." I think this word has its origin in Persian and they pronounce it "ahaste, ahaste."

I am sure you will pick up Bengali language very quickly once you take over your new assignment. Do you have any plan to learn the language while serving in Bangladesh?
In fact my wife and I myself have already started learning Bengali with Professor Kyoko Niwa, who is one of the leading experts in Japan of Bengali language and literature.

You have a rich and unique cultural heritage. I am confident as ambassador of Japan I would be able to show our due respect to your culture and your language. I know your language is very rich with Rabindranath Tagore being the first Nobel Prize winner in Asia. As Asian it is our pride that Tagore was the first Asian Nobel laureate. When I worked at the Ministry of Education, Science, Sports and Culture, I was once in charge of the science department there and I often visited Sweden where we talked about the Nobel award. Tagore's name as Asia's first Nobel laureate was frequently mentioned in such meetings and I could feel how close he is to us also.

Have you been to Bangladesh before?
No, unfortunately not. I worked for the international affairs department of the ministry and visited many countries. I was also at one time Secretary General of the Japanese National Commission for UNESCO. In such capacities I often visited Bangkok. I also had been to many European and Middle Eastern countries. But somehow it never happened for me to be in Bangladesh. But I am now very much looking forward to work in your country to serve for the friendship between two countries and between the two people.

How do you see Bangladesh? What is your perception of the country?
Well I think, first, the country has a very long history, and as I have learned, you feel proud of your culture and your language. But of course I have also heard about the floods and cyclones that sometime hit and cause extensive damages. Moreover, with a population of 140 million, Bangladesh is indeed a very big country. After learning from Professor Niwa and other people, I now know for sure that it is a very interesting country and I am now looking forward to serve there.

Bangladesh has always been a close ally of Japan and the two countries are enjoying cordial relationship right from the days of our independence. How do you intend to expand further this relationship of understanding? Is there any specific field that you intend to focus on?
I think there are many ways to develop further this relationship of cooperation and understanding between Japan and Bangladesh. Official Development Assistance (ODA) and loans are important aspects of our relations to Bangladesh. We definitely have to continue and expand this tie.

Another important side, of course, is direct investment from Japanese private sector, which we have to increase. This is very important, because, as you might know that our government is going through financial difficulties. So, we have to utilize the capacity and power of the private sector. This is the second important thing that I have to look at.

And the third is closely related to my professional background. There are 1,500 students at various Japanese universities from Bangladesh. The number of students from Bangladesh has been increasing. I think this human bondage is quite important too. Bangladeshi students are studying in engineering, technology, art, culture and various other fields. I think we can expand further this relationship.

So, as I said, ODA, private investment, and relations in education, culture, science and technology and human resource development of your country are the main aspects that I intend to emphasize on.

There are some criticisms about students from Bangladesh, particularly on their staying back in Japan on completion of study. Some critics tend to call it sort of a brain drain, as scholarships are given so that the recipients can utilize the expertise and learning acquired in Japan back at home and make contribution to their respective societies. How do you intend to address this problem?
Yes, I heard of this concern from other developing countries as well. But I do not think this is a direct brain drain. For example, with your 140 million populations, a few students working in Japan would not have that much adverse impact on the country. Of course we expect that all students who study in Japan go back to their countries to serve for the development of those societies. But those who are staying back, I think some day in the future they too would return home and will be able to contribute to the society in a much better way. So, as I told you, what you in Bengali say "aste, aste" -- that might be the right approach to look at the issue. This is probably also the spirit of human resource development education.

ODA is the main pillar of our relationship with Japan. There are some criticisms that official assistance not always reaches the target population for whom the aid is given, which is the poor and vulnerable. Do you have any intention to focus on addressing such criticism?
I think you have asked a very important question. Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget comes from our taxpayers. As a result, my government should be accountable to our taxpayers. In that context I think the continuous review of ODA to any country, not only Bangladesh, is very important. There has been stronger voice these days from our parliamentarians as well as various sectors of the society that ODA must contribute to the development, must reach to the people and must help the advancement of recipient countries.

Do you have any specific idea, how as ambassador of Japan you would like to ensure that this happens?
We have various ODA projects in Bangladesh, one of which is to contribute for the development of infrastructure like bridges and highways. There are also projects for rural development, which is also very important. Educational development is another crucial field and I want to continue working on all those sectors. We also have young volunteers working at grass-root level development projects. This type of ODA is also very important.

In some cases you are working with NGOs as well, isn't it?
Yes, of course. One such NGO is Shapla Neer, which is working at grass-root level in Bangladesh for more than thirty years now. In fact, recently at a farewell party at my ministry I presented my colleagues with small token of gifts that I have purchased from Shapla Neer. These were what you called Nakshi Katha, and my colleagues; particularly female colleagues liked the gift very much. Shapla Neer is contributing for the improvement of your people for more than thirty years now through this kind of activities as well as their direct involvement at the field level.

Do you have any plan to expand such activities with Bangladeshi NGOs?
I have heard that in your country NGOs are playing a very important role in development. I did not have the opportunity to meet various people of your country, but on arrival I would like to meet NGO representatives of your country as well and try to explore the possibility of expanding the cooperative approach.

You are assuming the ambassadorial post at a time considered crucial for Bangladesh. The country is going to have general election by January 2007 and politics in Bangladesh is characterized by politics of confrontation. Election time, as a result, is going to be tough time for the country. How Japan intends to keep a watchful eye over the incidents there? And how do you think Japan can help Bangladesh organize a free and fair election?
In your last two elections Japan helped Bangladesh by sending election monitors. I am not sure yet what is the exact situation now. I think we need to exchange opinion further with your government. But in any case, I think in any democratic procedure election is very important as this is how people express and reflect their political wish on the governance of the country. So, I sincerely hope that the election will take place safely and smoothly, and people's wish will duly be reflected in election results.

Is there anything that Bangladesh can learn from the democratic tradition of Japan?
I think you are familiar with our history. There are various factors that have been the driving force behind our development in last sixty years. One is that, in Japan we do not have any natural resources. What we instead have is the human resource. Therefore, we have firm commitment to our education, to our scientific and technological advancement. These two have always been two important goals of our government. This is one aspect of looking at and learning from Japan. Your country with the population of 140 million has a great potential.

Another aspect is the respect for human rights. This is exactly what Japan could achieve in last sixty years. Before the World War II Japanese society was more or less divided into two groups. At the one end were big landowners and on the other were landless farmers who suffered much. But during the post war reform the situation was addressed and farmers became landowners. The reform had an egalitarian perspective, which is very important for any democratic society.

Also I think local development and distribution of power is another aspect from which many things can be learned. Of course in Japan today there are many aspects of the government that still are centralized. But power has been gradually shifted to the local governments. In addition, moral and morale of the people in a democratic society is also another crucial aspect.

Finally, I would like to ask you what your expectation in Bangladesh would be. Is there any specific aim or target that you have set for yourself?
Well, I think I have already touched on this issue. Anyway, when I went to meet the Emperor, he told me to reinforce the friendship between Japan and Bangladesh and between the people of two countries. I think I shall try to do my best to respond to these wishes of our Emperor.