The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The brief in Koizumi's case
- After a failed underwear mission, PM brings a new label

New Delhi, April 26: The last time Junichiro Koizumi was in India, he tried to leave behind his underwear ' unsuccessfully.

This time he comes worrying about what Wen Jiabao, the Chinese Premier, has left behind in India.

Old underwear it certainly isn't. Or if it is, it would take us 10 years to find out, as it has in Koizumi's case.

Koizumi visits India nearly a decade after he made a private trip ' private not because he wanted to discard old underwear but because he was not the Japanese Prime Minister then.

Two days from now, Koizumi arrives on his first official trip here bearing a suitcaseful of concerns about India's growing closeness to China, with which Japan is locked in a particularly ugly row at the moment over Tokyo's war crimes in World War II.

Earlier this month, the Chinese Premier was in India talking about an Asian Century wearing the Chinese red flag and the Indian tricolour. He proposed a marriage between Indian software and Chinese hardware to rule the world and signed a strategic partnership.

Koizumi wants to sign a document with Manmohan Singh that is being described as 'a new Asian era'. When he departs from Delhi, he wants to leave India wearing Japan's recognition as a big power.

'Japan is willing to recognise India as a major power in Asia,' Yasukuni Enoki, the Japanese ambassador, said.

In the 10 years since he was last here, a lot has changed ' and not India's status alone that dived in the eyes of Tokyo after the nuclear blasts but has improved subsequently.

Foreign underwear brands are available now, if that is the right cachet to hang on economic opening-up.

Anyway, in his experience 10 years ago Koizumi found out how difficult it was in India to get rid of old things, even a pair of undergarments. He cast the old stuff away in a corner of his hotel room and went out, but came back to find they had been washed, ironed and neatly laid out.

Six years ago Pokhran II laid India's relations with Japan low with Tokyo announcing sanctions. Today Japan proclaims India as 'crucial' to Asian stability and progress.

The turnaround in Japan's attitude came gradually as India willy-nilly began to be accepted as a nuclear power. More important, though it has not stated so in public, Japan, like many Far East and Southeast Asian countries, sees India as the only power that can counterbalance China.

The ambassador said Japan was keen to see India included in the proposed East Asian summit to be held in Malaysia in December. Manmohan Singh's vision of turning the region into an 'arc of advantage and prosperity' as opposed to an 'arc of disadvantage' has warmed Japanese hearts.

Koizumi will 'clearly articulate' Japan's desire for India to take part in the summit. 'Development of bilateral relations between India and Japan is not only for the benefit of the two countries but for better prosperity of the entire Asian and the international community,' Enoki said.

Speaking of warming hearts, the Japanese Prime Minister ' a colourful person who wears his hair long and was recently pictured doing a twirl with Hollywood actor Richard Gere ' had been won over by what a Japanese diplomat described as Indian 'work ethics'.

It was more a story of defeat really for Koizumi. The next day he again threw the undergarments in a corner only to find them laundered again. On neither occasion had he put them in the laundry bag.

Japanese are known to be workaholics but such sincerity Koizumi hadn't known. The same seriousness will be on display on the two sides when a 'concrete action plan' is unveiled during Koizumi's talks with the Prime Minister and other Indian leaders.

It will be a document, with eight points, that will help take forward the 'global partnership' the two signed in 2000.

There are also proposals for a 'strategic dialogue' at the level of the national security adviser and an 'energy dialogue'.

When Koizumi arrives on the midnight of April 28, he might be reminded how Indian 'work ethics' chased him till the airport the last time. Before leaving the hotel, he put the undergarments in a packet and hid it in a corner. The hotel sent a special messenger to the airport with a packet.

Koizumi opened it with some trepidation ' and, sure enough, the packet contained his underwear, washed and ironed.

'This incident,' the Japanese diplomat said, disclosed to Koizumi a new image of India.

'He realised,' the diplomat added, 'what work ethics meant in India and how seriously people take it.'

Yeh andar ki baat hai ' it took a Japanese to tell us.

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