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Missing the boat to China

Missing the boat to China

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Lt Gen Pradeep Bali (retd)

Stationed as the Defence Attache (DA) at the Embassy of India in Tokyo in the early years of this century provided me with a unique opportunity to observe China from foreign shores. An iconic Shinto shrine of Japan is the Yasukuni, in the heart of Tokyo and a cause of acrimony with China. Yasukuni honours the war dead of the country and their names are interred there, duly approved by the Emperor’s decree. In 1973, the names of officers and soldiers of the Japanese Imperial Army, who had been part of the occupation force in Manchuria in the 1930s, were also included. This created a furore in China. Most foreign dignitaries and diplomats avoid visiting Yasukuni to avoid annoying Chinese sensibilities.

Being a nationalistic shrine, in 2005, Yasukuni decided to honour the late Justice Radha Binod Pal, an Indian judge who was part of the 12-member War Crimes Tribunal, constituted in 1946 for conducting the trials of Japanese military commanders. The verdict of guilty was announced by this court with a lone dissenting judgment of Justice Pal, who felt it was a travesty of justice. This act greatly endeared the good judge to the Japanese. More than half a century later, the shrine decided to install a memorial to Justice Pal. An invite was received by the Indian Embassy to take part in the ceremony, and clearance from the MEA in Delhi was obtained.

The honouring of Justice Pal was a great event and one felt proud. Unknown to me, there were prying eyes at work! As the DA, I was responsible for organising visits by Japanese service chiefs to India. In the first half of 2006, the chiefs of all three Japanese Self-Defence Forces visited India in quick succession. This was unusual, as pointed out by an MEA official. However, these were routine reciprocal visits by service chiefs who somehow got bunched up due to frequent rescheduling and there was nothing further to it.

We were nearing the end of our tenure in Japan and decided to visit China on a short holiday. Just a few days before we were to depart, I received a telephone call from the DA at the Swiss Embassy in Tokyo who was known to me and spoke Mandarin. He mentioned that there was a none-too-laudatory reference to me in the Chinese newspapers which he had perused that morning and that he would send these across along with an English translation. The newspapers arrived at the embassy. I read them with mixed feelings! The gist of it was ‘… an unholy military alliance is emerging between Japan and India and the Indian DA in Tokyo is the lynchpin for this. He led a large Indian delegation last year to the Yasukuni shrine to inaugurate a memorial to an Indian judge who did not want to punish the Japanese war criminals. The DA was also responsible for the visits by Japanese army, navy and air force chiefs to India within a span of few months…’

Considering the notoriety I had achieved, I decided on discretion being the better part of valour and set in motion the process for cancelling our bookings for Beijing.

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