Analysing Pakistan-Japan Relations By Dr Khalil-ur-Rahman Shaikh

Japan and Pakistan established formal diplomatic relations in 1952. Both the countries enjoyed economic relations before the birth of the latter in August 1947. Karachi, the first capital of Pakistan was the centre of trade of Japan in the area. After seventy years of relationship, the relations have progressed with some ups and downs. Largely, the relations have remained normal, close and warm.
During the World War II Japan joined Axis Powers against the Allied Powers. Japan surrendered in 1945. Peace Conference was held in San Francisco in 1951 aimed at making peace between Japan and the Allied Powers. Forty-eight nations signed the Treaty on 8th September 1951. Pakistan was among the signatories of the Treaty.
Pakistan supported Japan at the conference. Sir Zafarullah Khan, then foreign minister of Pakistan led the Pakistani delegation in the conference. He said, “The peace with Japan should be a premised on justice and reconciliation, not on vengeance and oppression. In future, Japan would play an important role as a result of the series of reforms initiated in the political and social structure of Japan which hold out a bright promise of progress and which qualify Japan to take place as an equal in the fellowship of peace-loving nations.” Japan appreciated Pakistan’s support. It was among the first countries those established diplomatic relations with Japan after signing the treaty in 1952.
There are convergences and divergences of the bilateral and multilateral relations between Japan and Pakistan. Security cooperation including maritime security, terrorism, cultural cooperation, people to people contact, a solution of Afghanistan and peace in the regions of South Asia, West Asia and Central Asia etc is convergence. Divergence includes Pakistan’s nuclear and missile program, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Japan’s desire of having permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council etc.
People to People contact between the two countries established in 1952. The first Pakistani who came to Japan and settled there was Mr Shifta. He went there in the year of the establishment of diplomatic relations. Pakistanis living there formed their association in 1961. Dr UD Khan was the first president of the association. The number of Pakistani nationals residing in Japan by 2015 were 12708 (MOFA Japan).
Pakistanis are mainly engaged in the automobile sector. They carry out the business of exporting cars to different countries. Pakistani community is not parasitical. Not only do they earn money from Japan and send to their country but they also help Japan to earn foreign exchange which plays a momentous role in the economy of the country.
A few Pakistanis run online newspapers. Some Pakistanis have established a socio-cultural organisation ‘Friends of Pakistan’ in Japan. The inaugural session of FoP was held on 23rd February 2010 in Koshigaya city, Japan.
Pakistani students are also active in Japan. They have their own association. During the visit of former Prime Minister Muhammad Ali Bogra to Japan in the 1950s, the association came into existence which is called Pakistan Students Association. There is also Japan Association in Pakistan.
PSA is an active network of Pakistani students in Japan. They played important role when the nuclear disaster took place in Fukushima Diiachi, Japan in March 2011. PSA along with other Pakistanis helped the Japanese in the hour of disaster and calamity. They did not consider risks from radiation in the area due to nuclear disaster.
There are convergences and divergences in bilateral and multilateral relations between Japan and Pakistan
The bilateral relations between Pakistan and Japan is not completely void of all irritants. The nuclear armament in South Asia is a concern of Japan. India undertook nuclear tests in 1974. It compelled Pakistan to pursue vigorously its nuclear program. India committed series of nuclear tests in May 1998. Japan condemned the Indian nuclear adventure. It urged Pakistan to desist from the nuclear explosions. The US and other countries also expressed their concerns on the nuclear race between two superpowers of South Asia.
Indian nuclear action tilted the balance of power in favour of India in the regions of South Asia and West Asia. Now nuclear arms entered more vigorously in the arms race between Pakistan and India. The conventional weapons lost their importance of balancing power and creating deterrence in the region. Pakistan was left with no choice but to undertake the nuclear tests on 8th May, 1998. Pakistan understood that only nuclear weapons may deter India from likely attack on its soil.
The world community condemned Pakistan’s move. Japan also condemned and expressed concern. The Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun in its edition dated 29th May 1998 wrote, “We cannot dispense of efforts to improve insufficiencies in NPT which is unfair towards countries without nuclear capabilities”. Another newspaper The Chugoku Shimbun dated 29th May 1998 reported that the leader of political party Sakigake, Masayoshi Takemura sent a protest letter to the embassy of Pakistan in Japan. The letter contained, “We would never accept Pakistan’s testing since it was a violent act conducted while ignoring repeated urges from the international community including Japan to refrain from testing”.
The Government of Japan called Charge de affairs of Pakistan’s embassy in Tokyo and urged to stop further nuclear tests. The Consul General of Japan in Karachi in his meeting with Karachi Chamber of Commerce & Industry condemned nuclear tests conducted by Pakistan and India. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan issued press release dated 28th May 1998 which stated, “Pakistan conducted underground nuclear tests. In the wake of the Indian nuclear testing, Japan has repeatedly demanded Pakistan to exercise its utmost restraint by sending a special envoy to Islamabad with a letter of Prime Minister Hashimoto, Prime Minister Hashimoto also made a direct phone call to Prime Minister Sharif, urging Pakistan to exercise restraint. It is extremely regrettable that Pakistan has conducted its nuclear testing in defiance of the earnest demands: from the international community including Japan.”
Japan declared Kashmir as a flashpoint in South Asia. In other words, the problem of Kashmir may trigger a war between the two belligerent countries of South Asia and later on which may be converted into nuclear war. Japan is the only victim of nuclear bombardment committed by the United States in August 1945. It knew the hazardous, thus, apprehended same in South Asia.
Pakistan’s Missile program is also a divergence. Pakistan conducted its missile test in 2003. Japan once again urged Pakistan to also restrain from missile testing and proliferation of nuclear weapons. It issued press release dated 14th October 2003 which stated, “Japan reiterates its regret that Pakistan conducted a further ballistic missile test on October 14, following the recent tests on October 3 and 8, despite efforts by the international community towards the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles.”
Pakistan has no design of building a nuclear arsenal. It wants a minimum level of weapons to thwart Indian threat to its territorial integrity and political independence.
Another divergence between the two countries is Japan’s desire of having permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council. Japan wants a seat on the grounds of its efforts for the nuclear weapons-free world and its efforts for peace all over the world. It formed a group with India and two other countries for strengthening its case and mustering the support of the various member countries of the United Nations. Pakistan supports increasing number of non-permanent countries and making the Security Council more democratic.
India’s quest for a permanent seat in UN Security Council was due to some factors. Firstly, India is still an inferiority complex caused by its defeat in its war with China 1962. Probably it wants to equalise the status. Secondly, India wants to be a power of Asia. If it gets a permanent seat then its status may not be less than China at least in the home continent. Thirdly, the problem of Kashmir is bleeding wound of India.
It failed to neutralise the indigenous intifada (armless movement) launched by the Kashmiris for their right of self-determination. Its status in the apex body of the United Nations may help it in this regard. Fourthly, the countries located in the region of South Asia have differences with India. Indian support to Tamils, India involvement in internal affairs of Nepal and India’s various moves for destabilising and isolating Pakistan in the world community have made the environment of the region volatile.
China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is also divergent with low intensity between Pakistan and Japan. The project is part of One Belt One Road initiative. It is mainly an economic project but it has certain political and strategic implications. It is a revival of the oldest international trade highway Silk Route. In the beginning, Japan was apprehensive on the corridor due to Japan’s direct investment in Pakistan and investment of Japanese companies in the country.
The Japanese companies are mainly engaged in the automobile sector. CPEC started with an initial investment of 46 billion US dollars which has now exceeded 56 billion USD. Japan felt the danger to its investment. However, its apprehension reduced its intensity due to a number of factors. Firstly, China and Pakistan invited all the countries to participate in the corridor. This offer encouraged Japan to think on the other side of the corridor ie cooperation.
Secondly, despite territorial disputes with China, Japan wants to improve its relations. The summit meetings between the two countries indicate that Japan wants to normalise its relations with China. Japan is a trade and investment-oriented country. It may not afford Chinese opposition in different regions of the world including the region of South Asia. Lastly, Japan and US are allies under the Security Treaty 1952. The US opposed the concept of CPEC. It seems that this time Japan decided to go beyond U.S approach and protect its interests.
Japan and Pakistan are working jointly on various projects. Both have the same opinion and stand on different issues. Peace in the region of South Asia is a convergence between the two countries. Terrorism is also convergence as both countries have suffered from terrorist acts.
Japan and Pakistan desire peaceful solution of Afghanistan. Afghanistan is landlocked country. Its nearest access to the warm waters is the seaports of Pakistan. A country having interests in the region of Central Asia and wants to take benefit from the natural resources of the region, will have to support and play role in peace efforts in Afghanistan.
Sino-Pakistan relations is also convergence. Japan is making efforts to have improved relations with China. Thus, normal relations between three countries may further strengthen their ties.
Maritime Security is a problem which all the countries want to address jointly. The Persian Gulf, South China Sea and East China Sea are important for China. Similarly, the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea and the sea routes leading to Europe, Africa, South America and North America are important for Pakistan. Maritime rule of law will ensure smooth sailing of ships without any danger. Thirty-five countries including China, Japan, USA, Russia, and Great Britain participated in the Multinational naval exercise AMAN 2017 held in February 2017. It expressed will of the participating countries for peace in the warm waters.
Japan and Pakistan enjoy good economic relations. Ahmed Rashid Malik in his book Pakistan Japan Relations: Continuity and Change in Economic Relations and Security Interests has written that Japanese companies Nichimen laid down its branch in Karachi in 1918. Another company Kanematsu Ghoso also founded its branch in Karachi. The bilateral trade agreement was ratified between the two countries in 1949.
Japan’s economic cooperation with Pakistan covers loans, grants and technical cooperation. According to Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan, loans extended to Pakistan by 2014 was 980.99 billion yen. Grants comprised 259.3 9billion yen and Technical Cooperation reached 51.29 billion yen by the same period. According to the same source, Pakistan exported different items worth of 236 million yen whereas imports stood at 1.84 billion yen in 2015. It indicates the balance of trade in favour of Japan. Pakistan exported volatile oil, chemical products, textile yarn, textile goods. It imported automobile, machinery, steel. Japan’s foreign direct investment in Pakistan was 30.1 million US dollars by 2014-2015.
Pakistan and Japan have signed several mutual treaties in different areas. These include Trade Agreement 1953, Cultural Agreement 1957, Convention for the Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Prevention of Fiscal Evasion with respect to Taxes on Income on 17th February, 1959, Agreement for Establishment of Agricultural Training Center 1960, Treaty of Friendship and Commerce 1950, Agreement Relating to Air Services 1960, Agreement regarding Establishment of Telecommunication Research Center 1963, Bilateral Investment Treaty 1998 and Convention for the Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Prevention of Fiscal Evasion with respect to Taxes on Income 2008 etc.
Pakistan and Japan are engaged in dialogues and consultation in various fields aimed at improving cooperation and coordination. Security dialogue includes the areas of terrorism, security of the regions and other regional issues etc. Its sixth round was held on 20th April 2018 in Tokyo.
Japan desires normal relations between India and Pakistan as it may create a peaceful atmosphere in South Asia. Japan and India have warm and good relations. Thus, it may play role in the solution of the problem of Kashmir. Japan played a momentous role in resolving Tamil problem in Sri Lanka in the 1990s.
The main challenge to bilateral relations between the two countries is CPEC. Japan does not oppose it but wants to protect its interests. Pakistan, China and Japan should be engaged in dialogue for removing Japanese apprehension on the corridor.
The writer is an author and has a doctorate in Political Science
Published in Daily Times, May 11th 2018.

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