Ambassador of Japan: Nagorno-Karabakh conflict impedes development of Azerbaijan and the region on the whole - INTERVIEW

'Japan supports the peaceful settlement of the issue on the basis of resolutions, agreements and international law'

Baku. 23 December. REPORT.AZ/  Interview of Report News Agency with Ambassador of Japan Mr. Tsuguo Takahashi

-Mr. Ambassador, first of all, I would like want to congratulate you and all the people of Japan on the occasion of the birthday of the Emperor on behalf of the news agency. How do you assess the level of development of relations between Azerbaijan and Japan?

-Thank you for your congratulations.

It's been 20 years since the establishment of our diplomatic relations in 1991, there are no political differences between the two countries and we can say that relations have developed smoothly. Our country has supported the development of Azerbaijan as an independent country by means of various projects of economic assistance. Moreover, Japanese companies, involved in energy projects, have become the driving force of development in Azerbaijan in recent years. On the other hand, we express our gratitude to Azerbaijan for financial and moral support provided for Japan after the disastrous earthquake in the East of Japan occurred in March 2011.

The period of 20 years is still not so great, and I think, there is potential for cooperation and collaboration between the two countries.

Also, taking into account the fact that Azerbaijan, as a young nation, continues to grow rapidly, it seems there are chances of further development of relations between the two countries. In this sense, it is necessary to pay attention to the fact that in November last year the Ismailli city and Ito signed an agreement on friendly exchange, a new attempt on exchanging between the regions is started.

I have stayed here for about a year as an ambassador of Japan and I intend to try my best for greater development of relations between the two countries.

-This year the capital of Azerbaijan hosted a Japanese business festival. What are the results of this festival? Do you see growing interest of Japanese businessmen to work in Azerbaijan and what sectors of the Azerbaijani economy are attractive for investment?

-The Japanese business festival was of great success mostly due to the personal initiative of Mr. Kazuyasu Ishida. Mr. Ishida conducts various activities to involve Japanese investors in Azerbaijan, and also he has visited Azerbaijan together with Japanese investors and representatives of various companies many times.

Thanks to the cooperation of a large number of students studying Japanese, this business festival completed with great success.

Until then, a lot of small and medium-sized enterprises have been showing interest in Azerbaijan and even sent their representatives to Azerbaijan, however as far as I know, there were no cases when representatives of small and medium-sized enterprises interested in business in Azerbaijan visited the country by such a large group, as this time. I guess we can consider it as one of the signs of a sharp increase in interest of Japanese businessmen in Azerbaijani economy.

In the Azerbaijani economy, there are many attractive industries, there are metallurgical, automotive and aerospace sectors are among them for cooperation of Japan and Azerbaijan. Japan has a longstanding traditions and high technology in the production of iron and there are several companies willing to cooperate for the development of this sector in Azerbaijan.

As for production of cars, cooperation of Japan with Azerbaijan bears its fruit. Until then, traditionally, the sectoral structure of Azerbaijan, as well as the main export commodity is oil, but recently there has been expansion of production in the non-energy sector. The present year in Azerbaijan is declared the "Year of the industry". Azerbaijani enterprise "Aztekhnika" has built a plant for folding trucks produced by the Japanese company "Isuzu" and the production of trucks started. I have heard that it is planned to complete the construction of a plant for the production of truck parts next year.

-Mr. Takahashi, how do you assess the level of economic cooperation between our countries? What is the turnover figure?

-Japan has invested in the energy sector since the engagement of the development of Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli, and also currently considers the contribution of investment in the energy sector. Nevertheless, quite frankly, the current level of trade is not so satisfactory. We sincerely wish to increase the level of trade between the two countries.

The main product exported from Japan to Azerbaijan is such industrial products as cars.

The great part of exported commodities from Azerbaijan is oil, but it is very difficult to send oil from Azerbaijan. For this reason, the level of exports from Azerbaijan to Japan remains at a low level. We hope that the non-energy sector and the infrastructure of Azerbaijan will develop linking the two countries, thereby the trade turnover between the two countries will rise.

- What are the prospects of cooperation between Azerbaijan and Japan in the aerospace industry?

-The space sector is the most promising direction in economic development opportunities between the two countries. In February 2013 a workshop on the space sector between Japan and Azerbaijan was organized and space technology in Japan were presented. Japan is one of the very few countries that has been developing this field and has its own artificial satellite and space rockets. The artificial satellite of Azerbaijan may also be run from the territory of Japan, using a rocket launch in Japan. Many Japanese companies have shown a strong interest in the production of artificial satellites in cooperation with Azerbaijan.

-Japan and Azerbaijan have planned to sign a bilateral agreement in the military sphere. How is the military cooperation between our two countries going , and when is it planned to sign the agreement?

-Currently, there are no concrete plans for military cooperation between the two countries. However, in August 2013 the Parliamentary Vice-Minister of Defense Japan Mr. Masahisa Sato came with his first visit to Azerbaijan as a leading person and was amazed by the development of the country, as well as warm welcome of the residents, and left with a good impression about Azerbaijan.

-Many years, Japan has been implemented Grassroots and Human Security program in Azerbaijan. What amount have the Japanese authorities allocated for the implementation of these projects, what specific successes were achieved? Does the Government of Japan intend to implement similar projects in the future and if yes in which areas?

-Japan is engaged in the implementation of projects under the Grassroots and Human Security Grant Assistance Programme mainly in the regions of Azerbaijan. This is a humanitarian assistance in such areas as education, health, water supplement, agriculture, environmental protection, the Japanese government gives great importance to such assistance that directly will benefit residents. such projects are implemented in various regions of Azerbaijan, the total number of projects carried out has reached 195, the total amount spent on their implementation is 16.540.056 Dollars.

As this volunteer program (Grassroots and Human Security Grant Assistance Programme) is highly valued as a program that contributes in improving the standard of living of many people, it also helps in strengthening relations between the two countries, and we intend to continue to pursue implementing of the program based on the needs of the Azerbaijani side.

-Mr. Ambassador, how do you assess the level of cooperation between our countries in the field of education? How many Azerbaijani students have received higher education in Japanese universities and how many students are studying now?

-Every year, three students gain the opportunity to study master's degree in Japanese universities. Also, from one to four students learning Japanese, are selected for training on the one-year program at universities in Japan, due to a scholarship from the Ministry of Education of Japan. From 1992 till today totally 32 students have been sent to Japan for studying masters in Japan and five students - for undergraduate degree. Furthermore, 19 students have received education due to the one-year program.

In addition, in the framework of the program organized by the Japanese Foundation, every year from one to four students of the Chair of the Japanese language gain the opportunity to participate in short term internships on Japanese language, which last from 2 weeks to one month.

Such universities as Baku State University, Azerbaijan University of Languages, Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy have carried out a mutual exchange, creating collaborative relationships with Japanese universities. I am very glad to see a gradual increase in the level of Japanese language students' abilities.

-What about the development of cooperation between the two countries in the field of tourism? What is the number of tourists annually visiting Azerbaijan and Japan? What steps are being taken to intensify contacts in this sphere?

-There is mutual cooperation in the sector of tourism. For example, in 2009 the Government of Japan has invited representatives of state tourism administrations and enterprises of GUAM member states including Azerbaijan to Tokyo, and organized a seminar on the development of tourism. Then, GUAM member states invited the representatives of Japanese travel companies, as well as representatives of Japanese media to monitor the situation of tourism in the GUAM countries. Also, since 2010, Azerbaijan has represented the country on the tourism exhibition, organized by the JATA and disseminates information, thus the knowledge of Japanese people about tourism in Azerbaijan gradually increases.

In 2013, the year, 373 Azerbaijani citizens appealed to the Japanese Embassy for a visa. Also, according to statistics from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Azerbaijan, in 2013, the number of Japanese people visited Azerbaijan reached 2,471. At the moment, the main objective is to increase the number of tourists by mutual efforts.

-Mr. Ambassador, how do you assess the level of humanitarian cooperation between our countries? Are any joint projects possible in this direction?

-It has already been stated on humanitarian assistance provided under the Grassroots and Human Security volunteer program.

In addition, we know that the International Humanitarian Forum, held every autumn in Baku, also involves representatives of Japan, and so we look forward to further development of humanitarian ties between the two countries.

-Are any visits of Japanese officials to Azerbaijan expected in the near future?

-Currently there are no planned meetings at the official level, but Japanese diplomacy is very active in order to strengthen relations with all countries of the world and contribute to peace and development in different regions. I also hope that in the near future senior officials of Japan will visit Azerbaijan, which in recent years has increased its status in the international community and is at a new stage of development on the basis of the result of exploitation of energy resources. In December last year, by the invitation of the Government of Japan, the Minister of Communications and Communication Technologies of Azerbaijan Mr. Ali Abbasov payed a visit to Japan. His visit greatly contributed in the promotion of exchanges and cooperation between the two countries in this field. In addition, in February this year, Deputy Prime Minister of Azerbaijan Mr. Abid Sharifov, leading the Azerbaijani delegation, visited Japan in order to attend the meeting of the Azerbaijan-Japan intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation.

- What is the position of Japan the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, considering the fact that your country is involved in territorial disputes?

-Japan supports the peaceful settlement of the issue on the basis of resolutions, agreements and international law, as well as the mediation efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group for this purpose. I personally as a diplomat, working and living in Azerbaijan, know for sure that due to this conflict the country continues to face difficult issues, including the refugee issue, and I understand that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict hinders the development of not only Azerbaijan, but also the entire South -Caucasian region as a whole.

-Currently, East and South-East Asia rapidly intercepts the economic leadership in the world. What is the role of Japan by in this matter?

-After 2007, during 7 years the largest trading partner of Japan is China, the amount of which turnover exceeds 300 billion US dollars in 2013, the year (corresponding to 20% of the total amount of turnover in Japan), if you add the amount of trade with third trade partner in the face of Korea, as well as the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations(ASEAN - Association of Southeast Asian Nations), this figure will reach 630 billion US dollars (that's about 40% of the total amount of Japanese turnover) . In addition, the Japanese companies are actively operate and invest in these countries. For example, according to statistics from China, Japan occupies the first place in the number of companies operating in China (2012) and second place in direct investments (2013). In recent years, a new stage of cooperation as joint promotion of companies from both countries to a third country between Korea and Japan is developing, also we hold talks on free trade, including China. Thus, close economic relations with China and Korea are established, as well as with the ASEAN countries, interdependent relations develop, where Japan has made a great contribution by means of investment and economic cooperation. In relations with the ASEAN countries, Japan is the largest donor country, and currently assists in the creation of infrastructure, training professionals and other fields, among which there are main projects on enhancing connectivity and narrowing the development gap as a contribution to the creation of the Commonwealth of ASEAN planned to 2015.

-How the people and government of Japan could overcome the consequences of the tragedy in Fukushima? Have any concrete measures been taken to prevent similar disasters in the future?

-As you know, the consequences of the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred in Japan in March, 2011 and the tsunami were very large, but Japan could cope with this tragedy, thanks to the support received from abroad and from the country itself, by joining the efforts of the government and private sectors. The ongoing restoration procedures are still implemented in the suffered areas, but work on clearing rubble what led to tsunami is almost completed and generally production of local industry is restarted. In addition, Japan, together with reconsideration of standards of nuclear safety, is engaged in recovery activities such as cleaning up the contamination led to the tsunami, people return to their homes (the support of temporary returning home, the creation of conditions for the return, etc.) and helping people who have been displaced for a long time. You may get more information on this issue on the official pages of Agency Office of the Prime Minister and the Agency for rehabilitation works.

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