Pokhran test forced Japan Empress to cancel visit in 1998

IndiaCrown Prince Akihito and Princess Michiko of Japan with PM Jawahar Lal Nehru in New Delhi in 1960. PTI File

As Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko make their second bilateral visit to India in 53 years, the key political issue of civil nuclear cooperation between India and Japan hangs in the background.

But fifteen years earlier, in September 1998, Empress Michiko had cancelled a visit to the country. The Empress, who has a keen interest in children's literature, was scheduled to deliver a keynote speech at the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) World Congress in New Delhi. But Japan, the only victim of the atomic bomb, took a grave view of India's nuclear tests in Pokhran in May 1998, and the visit was cancelled. Instead, her recorded speech was delivered as a video message.

This time, when the royal couple arrive for a six-day state visit from November 30 to December 5, Empress Michiko will personally meet representatives of the Indian branch of IBBY on December 3.

Incidentally, the visit comes at a time when New Delhi and Tokyo are busy negotiating a deal on civilian nuclear cooperation, and have had several rounds of discussions on it, the last one held in November this year.

While no nuclear negotiations are expected during the visit, sources said this signifies a change in the trajectory of the relations between the two countries. "This symbolises the confidence and trust of the relations especially in the wake of India's nuclear non-proliferation track record, which has made this high-level visit by the royal couple possible," an Indian official said.

Empress Michiko, apart from meeting the IBBY representatives at the India International Centre, is also likely to interact with some Indian authors related to the Children's Book Trust. The Empress, who likes Panchatantra, Jataka tales and the Ramayana, has actively contributed to the promotion of children's literature. Her works include several self-written illustrated books and a translation of poems by Japanese authors into English.

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