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Interview with H.E. the Ambassador of Japan, Yasuhiro Shimizu

 

DIPLOMATIC PROFILE

 

H.E. the Ambassador of Japan, Yasuhiro Shimizu

 

“The prosperity of Japan depends on an open and transparent, free and fair world economy complying with international rules and regulations. From this point of view, Japan shares the same stance as European countries. A strong and united Europe is in the interests of Japan…

Japan has contributed to the stability of the world economy system through various measures, which have also supported the Greek economy as well.”

 

GDL: Japan is a highly-developed market-oriented economy, the third largest in the world. What are the national interests of your country?

YS: Japan has become one of the major economies in the world, based on its national character of diligence and development of advanced science and technology. The prosperity of Japan depends on an open and transparent, free and fair world economy complying with international rules and regulations.

From this point of view, Japan shares the same stance as European countries. A strong and united Europe is in the interests of Japan. In close cooperation with European countries including Greece, Japan could promote trade policy based on rules and regulations, so that we could together achieve international economic development in an effective manner.

 

“Japan also tries to build mutual confidence with its neighbouring countries. For example, Japan and China have been promoting dialogue and exchanges between authorities such as the High-Level Consultation on Maritime Affairs.

I believe that these efforts contribute towards avoiding unexpected situations in the region.”

 

GDL: What is Japan’s current stance in regional foreign policy matters with regard to improving relations with its close geographical neighbours and how can it manage the challenges of territorial disputes, whilst at the same time promote and build an inclusive and diverse path toward development and prosperity for the developing countries in Asia and beyond?

YS: Building good relationships with neighbouring counties is one of the major pillars of Japanese foreign policy. We have some unfortunate history with neighbouring countries, but can build a good relationship from the stance of a future-oriented perspective. Not only territorial issues, but also all disputes with neighbouring countries should be resolved in accordance with International Law.

As our territory consists of many islands, we put a great importance to enhance the rule of the Law of the Sea, especially the UNCLOS (UN Convention on the Law of Sea).

I believe that a peaceful solution of disputes among nations brings stability and prosperity, not only in Asia, but also across the world. Furthermore, Japan also tries to build mutual confidence with its neighbouring countries.

For example, Japan and China have been promoting dialogue and exchanges between authorities such as the High-Level Consultation on Maritime Affairs. I believe that these efforts contribute towards avoiding unexpected situations in the region.

 

“In order to achieve peace in the Korean Peninsula, as well as to ensure safe return of all Japanese nationals, the Government of Japan continues to make utmost efforts to improve the situation in cooperation with the international community, especially with the US and South Korea.”

 

GDL: What is Japan’s approach toward a regime of peace on the Korean Peninsula?

YS: The Korean peninsula issues, especially the nuclear testing and missile launches by North Korea, have posed a very serious threat, not only to Japan, but also to the whole world. In order to resolve these issues, North Korea needs to abandon all weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programmes in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner.

We are watching negotiations between countries very carefully, especially the dialogues between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim Jong-un.

On the other hand, Japan has another serious issue with North Korea that is the abductions of Japanese citizens committed by the North Korean government during the 1970s and 1980s. Many Japanese citizens disappeared under unusual circumstances and only five of them have returned to Japan.

In order to achieve peace in the Korean Peninsula, as well as to ensure safe return of all Japanese nationals, the Government of Japan continues to make utmost efforts to improve the situation in cooperation with the international community, especially the US and South Korea.

 

“We are afraid that protectionism could hamper the development of the world economy. Japan and the EU have a common stance, which has led to the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) that came into effect on 1st February this year.

The EU and Japan can play the leading roles in building a free, fair and stable economic system.”

 

GDL: What is the position of your Government toward the US policy on tariffs and the retaliatory measures other countries are taking?

YS: We support fair and open trade which is the basis of prosperity of the world economy. Compliance with International Law and fair trade rules is important. Unfair or biased practices should be corrected, such as violation of intellectual rights or unfair subsidies, and so on. We are afraid that protectionism could hamper the development of the world economy. Japan and the EU have a common stance, which has led to the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) that came into effect on 1st February this year.

The EU and Japan can play the leading roles in building a free, fair and stable economic system.

 

“The year 2019 marks the 120th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations and the Embassy of Japan is planning many events to celebrate our bilateral relationship; likewise, I also heard that several events are also being organised in Japan to celebrate this special year too.”

 

GDL: Greece and Japan established diplomatic relations 120 years ago. How close did the two countries work together to upgrade their bilateral relations, and as far as political cooperation goes, what was their response to international crises and in dealing with current issues of international interest?

YS: Japanese people have always respected Greece as the birthplace of democracy and as the cradle of western civilisation. I personally read Sophocles and Aeschylus in my university days and visited Greece twice prior to my appointment as the Ambassador to the Hellenic Republic.

Both countries have many things in common, such as ancient civilisations, insular country, maritime activities, spirit of hospitality, market-based free economy and democracy. Based on these commonalities and our mutual respect, our relations have gone well for a long time. Japan has contributed to the stability of the world economy system through various measures, which have also supported the Greek economy as well.

Regarding the political cooperation, our countries keep the same stance, that is, we respect International Law and respond to every crisis in cooperation with the international community.

GDL: How will this anniversary year be celebrated in both Japan and Greece?

YS: As mentioned in the previous question, the year 2019 marks the 120th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations and the Embassy of Japan is planning many events to celebrate our bilateral relationship; likewise, I also heard that several events are also being organised in Japan to celebrate this special year too.

In Greece, some of the events taking place are a Photo Exhibition on Buddha Statues, a Film Festival, a Dolls and Toys Exhibition, a Print Exhibition, an Art and Craft Exhibition and so on.

In November, over 1,000 Japanese performers and exhibitors will visit Athens to host a week-long festival “Japan Week”, one of the biggest events of its kind. Also, an event presenting the ties of two countries through the spirit of sports and Olympism is scheduled for 2020, the year of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. These events have great impact, not only culturally, but also economically and politically, in order to promote our bilateral relations.

 

Japan National Tourism Japan Week Logo

 

“I would like to point out that the statistics of direct trade volume does not reflect the reality of economic relations between our two countries in the era of globalisation… If we include these indirect trade activities, our economic relations in reality are much more extensive.”

“I would also like to stress that the real benefit of doing business with Japanese companies is their ethos of respect of mutual trust and of long-term stable relationships, etc.”

 

GDL: Although there is a substantial volume of trade between the two countries, the balance is disproportionately in Japan’s favour. What needs to be done for Japanese companies and investment to increase your country’s share in the Greek market?

YS: First, I would like to point out that the statistics of direct trade volume does not reflect the reality of economic relations between our two countries in the era of globalisation. Some activities outside Greece by Greek shipowners’ are not reflected in our bilateral trade statistics, even if they bought ships in Japan, but their ship flags belong to the third country.

Furthermore, for example, although Japanese companies, such as Toyota and Nissan, export products to Greece from factories in Europe, these are not counted in the direct bilateral trade volume between Japan and Greece. If we include these indirect trade activities, our economic relations in reality are much more extensive.

Still, many Japanese companies have made direct investment here in Greece, such as Takeda, Astellas, pharmaceutical companies. Japan Tabaco International (JTI) has recently invested in Xanthi. Tosoh Hellas has maintained a factory in Thessaloniki for a long time. I personally visited more than 40 companies, which engage in Japanese business in Greece.

In my opinion, more transparency in bureaucracy, more predictability in taxation and implementation of laws and regulations are required to attract more foreign investment.

 

H.E. the Ambassador of Japan, Yasuhiro Shimizu

GDL: With regard to an area in which Greece is particularly dynamic, shipping, how can both sides benefit equally?

YS: The shipping industry is a major pillar of Greece and Japan’s economic ties. As Greece is the largest ship-owning country in the world,

Greece has the strongest purchasing power of ships in the world. Some Greek shipowners buy exclusively Japanese ships among others. Japanese ships have the reputation of high quality with low maintenance cost and a high resale value.

I would also like to stress that the real benefit of doing business with Japanese companies is their ethos of respect of mutual trust and of long-term stable relationships, etc.

 

“I believe that these familiarities and similarities between Japan and Greece can form the basis of mutual understanding, cooperation and friendship in a complex multi-national world, and thus, in turn, a further promotion of bilateral relations, not only in the field of culture, but also in the economic and political areas as well.”

 

GDL: As Greece is the birthplace of the Olympics, the 2020 Tokyo Games holds a special significance for both peoples. How can both countries take advantage of this historical timing?

YS: In the past several years, the Japanese media intensively covered the economic crisis of Greece since 2009 and the refugee crisis of Europe in 2015 that made the image of Greece suffer and consequently the number of Japanese tourists visiting Greece significantly dropped. However, after the exit from the EU bailout programme, Japanese tourists are gradually coming back to Greece again.

Besides, the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games could be the opportunity to strengthen our bilateral relations. On the occasion of the Olympic Games, I am sure that Japan has much to learn from Greece, which is not only the birthplace of the Olympic Games, but also the host country of the Athens Olympic Games in 1986 and in 2004 and has gained various experiences in the organisation of this important event.

GDL: Japanese and Greek cultures, although a great distance apart, share many similarities with their approach to life: family relationships, social matters, approach to nature, connection with the sea in their daily lives, etc. How can both sides capitalise upon this?

YS: The Photo Exhibition of Buddha Statues in January revealed how the Hellenism arts influenced the Buddha Statues built in Japan, transcended through the Silk Road in 7th Century AD. Although Japan has maintained its unique tradition and culture in its history, the Japanese modern and traditional cultures and style now attract many people in Greece. In particular, I am impressed to learn that many Greek people practice Japanese traditional martial arts such as Karate, Judo and Aikido.

Not only cultural aspects, but also our societies share similar characteristics and common challenges, such as an aging society within the population, a natural disaster-prone society, insular nation respecting sea and nature, etc.

I believe that these familiarities and similarities between Japan and Greece can form the basis of mutual understanding, cooperation and friendship in a complex multi-national world, and thus, in turn, a further promotion of bilateral relations, not only in the field of culture, but also in the economic and political areas as well.

 

Interview by Nicolas Boutsicos
Editor, Greek Diplomatic Life

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