Ambassador Koizumi: Japan Needs to Reopen NPPs Under Safety Standards
Interview with Japan's Ambassador to Bulgaria, Takashi Koizumi, winner of Novinite.com's "Ambassador in the News" award for 2013.
Congratulations your Excellency! You were voted "Ambassador in the News" for 2013 by our readers. Your connection with Bulgaria goes a long way back, when you specialized in Bulgarian language at the Sofia University. What sparked your interest?
Firstly I would like to thank all the readers that I was chosen as „Ambassador in the News” for 2013, and the site Novinite.com as well. I am truly honored to receive this award in the year 2014 when we celebrate the 55th anniversary of the resumption of bilateral diplomatic relations between Japan and Bulgaria.
In response to your question, I studied Bulgarian language in the Department of Bulgarian Literature at Sofia University from 1977 to 1979. The purpose of my study was not specifically directed to Bulgarian language, but rather in those years when your country was not much known in Japan, I wanted to learn and know more about cultural and historical background of Bulgaria as a crossroad between Eastern and Western civilizations. It has passed 35 years since then, but there are still many things about Bulgaria that I have not known well yet and it seems to be still plenty of things that I have to learn.
It would be fair to say that the emblems of Bulgaria in Japan are sumo wrestler Kotooshu and the "Meiji Bulgaria Yoghurt". Can we expect to see any new emblems in the near future? What else do Japanese people generally know about Bulgaria?
Indeed as you said, in Japan when it comes to Bulgaria, the best known things are Bulgarian "Meiji" yoghurt and the sumo wrestler Kotooshu. I am convinced that Kotooshu played a huge role in promoting mutual understanding and developing friendship relations between Bulgaria and Japan. Unfortunately, he recently retired from the sumo sports activity, but high expectations are forwarded to the performance in the future of Aoiyama, who is another young and strong sumo wrestler from Bulgaria.
Of course, the rose is also a symbol of Bulgaria. Recently, rose products are becoming increasingly popular in Japan. Besides, a large number of Japanese tourists visit Kazanlak during the Rose Festival every year. I usually point out that the good image of Bulgaria is associated with "health, beauty and longevity". In Bulgaria there are various natural resources that could make these images possible. Of course, yoghurt and rose products are important without any doubt, but I suppose that the promotion of healthy foods, natural cosmetics and pharmaceuticals and tourism are essential for building such an image.
Furthermore, when we talk about impressions on Bulgaria, the country is known in many other areas, including the famous singers and choirs such as the national opera, "The Mystery of Bulgarian Voices", the sportsmen with good performance in rhythmic gymnastics, soccer, tennis and others.
Japan has been one of the most active donors to Bulgaria under its Official Development Assistance (ODA) program between 1989-2007. How do you assess Bulgaria's transition to democracy and market economy?
I am extremely happy and feel proud that Japan as a donor country has contributed to Bulgaria’s development through the official development aid (ODA), since the start of transition from socialism to democracy to the accession of your country to the European Union.
At present, it is difficult to make an accurate assessment of the transition, but I am convinced that official aid provided by Japan at least has contributed to build the new state. I hope that Bulgaria and Japan, as equal partners sharing common universal values on the basis of democracy, will enhance overall bilateral relations in diversified areas, including sustainable economic exchange.
Since joining the EU, young Bulgarians increasingly go abroad to study in European universities. Meanwhile, the Japanese government annually gives scholarships to Bulgarians who wish to study in your country. What are some of the benefits of pursuing a degree in Japan? Do you envision an increase of Bulgarian students in the future?
Over the past 22 years, the Government of Japan received 462 Bulgarians as scholarships of Monbusho to study in Japan. Most of the graduates not only work for bilateral relations, but also contribute to the social and economic development in the wide range of areas of Bulgaria, utilizing their rich experience obtained in Japan.
On the other hand, the opportunity for employment of foreigners in Japan is growing recently and it means that to study in Japan provides a good chance to find a good job there. Perhaps this is due to the expectation of Japanese companies for the high ability of foreign students for the purpose to recruit young talents. So far, still few scholarship students from Bulgaria work at Japanese companies after their graduation, but I hope their number will increase in the future.
Currently over 1,400 Bulgarians are studying Japanese language throughout the country and I hope that many of them will continue their education in Japan.
Are you optimistic about the outcome of the Japan - EU Free Trade Agreement talks? What are the main challenges that remain to be resolved on both sides?
Yes, I am optimistic and I should be. I think the conclusion of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between Japan and the European Union is essential for strengthening economic relations between Japan and the EU, including Bulgaria.
Five negotiating sessions have been taking place since the summit meeting between Japan and the EU decided to start negotiations on the Japan-EU EPA in March last year. At the latest European tour of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the UK, Germany and France, the heads of each state confirmed their intentions to continue cooperation and to accelerate the negotiation to reach a conclusion of the Japan-EU EPA.
As far as I know, both sides have conducted comprehensive discussions on a large scope of issues, including tariffs on industrial and agricultural products, and non-tariff measures in the negotiations.
Japan recently passed sanctions against Russian officials in connection to the Ukraine crisis. What implications could this have regarding the Kuril Islands dispute between Russia and Japan? Could the sanctions have a negative effect on Japan's economy?
Japan claims that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine should be respected and that Japan can never overlook the attempt to change the status quo by force. I think that the G7 countries, together with the other countries concerned, should continue to send firmly such messages.
At the same time, it is important for Japan to continue political dialogue with Russia, on the ground of mutual understanding reached between the leaders of Japan and Russia at a couple of their summit meetings last year, for finding solution concerning the Northern Territories (Kuril Islands) issue. In addition, judging by the content of the sanctions imposed on Russia at this point, I don’t think they might have much impact on the Japanese economy.
Following the devastating earthquake and meltdown at the Fukushima NPP, Japan closed its nuclear reactors. However, the Abe administration is now moving towards restarting some of the plants. Japan also signed a USD 22 B deal for an NPP in northern Turkey. Have the lessons of Fukushima been learned? How will PM Abe reassure his opponents who call for abolishing nuclear energy?
First of all, Japan is a resource-poor country which almost entirely depends on foreign resources. Therefore, sustained energy supply is an important national task. After the accident at the nuclear power plant "Fukushima 1", Japan immediately stopped the operation of 17 NPP (of total 50 nuclear reactors) across the country. It caused rapid increase of fuel import for thermal power plants, which led to continuous huge trade deficit.
In such circumstances, the Japanese government announced a “Basic Energy Plan” aimed at the stability of energy supplies, in April this year, which includes measures for restarting operation of the nuclear power plants under the guarantee for their safety. In order to restart the operation of the nuclear power plants, their safety should be guaranteed after the most severe examination in the world by an independent Nuclear Regulatory Commission and it is necessary to get consent of the local communities in the regions concerned.
However, based on the agreement of nuclear energy technology cooperation, signed between Turkey and the UAE, Japan is trying to export nuclear energy production technologies to those countries. Of course, we are aware about some voices appealing for total elimination of nuclear power plants. Perhaps it would be desirable to develop energy supply systems which do not depend totally on nuclear power plants or depend on them to minimum extent in the future. It is necessary, however, to obtain understanding for the need to reopen the nuclear plants at maximum guarantees for their safety at this stage.
The annual Days of Japanese Culture will be held for a 25th consecutive year in Bulgaria. What are some of the highlights this year? Do you notice an increasing interest for Japanese culture among Bulgarians?
This year we will celebrate for the 25th time in a row the Days of Japanese culture, held annually since 1991. This is my third appointment as a diplomat to Bulgaria, but I'm highly impressed by the extremely high interest of Bulgarians towards Japanese culture compared to prior years, which makes me very happy.
This year we mark the 55th anniversary of the resumption of bilateral diplomatic relations between Japan and Bulgaria and a quarter century of the Days of Japanese culture. For the opening this year, we invite a worldly renown Japanese master of ikebana, Mr. Shogo Kariyazaki, and will open an exhibition of his contemporary ikebana at the National Palace of Culture from 24 to 29 of June.
Other events will take place in the autumn. This year’s programs include a joint performance of Japanese traditional instrument “shakuhachi” with quartet "Sofia", a concert of Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra with Japanese instrumentalists, Japanese traditional dances, presentation of Japanese cuisine, exhibitions of works of cut - paper "Kiri-e" and traditional decoration balls “Temari”, calligraphy, ceramics and others. I hope that all of you will enjoy the upcoming events.
What examples can Bulgaria follow from the successful Japanese model? Do the differences between our countries outweigh the similarities?
Firstly, I would like to point out at a good example of cooperation in the field of small and medium enterprises. It is well known in the world that 90 % of businesses which belong to the small and medium enterprise sector have followed the success of the Japanese economy. As far as I know, the development of small and medium enterprises is one of the main tasks of the Bulgarian Government.
Now, I believe that the Japanese model could be useful also for Bulgaria. I am indeed very glad that the Agencies of Small and Medium Enterprises of the two countries signed a Memorandum for Cooperation in March this year. There has already been a movement towards concrete ideas of cooperation.
Secondly, Japan has rich experience and advanced technologies in the areas of prevention and adequate response in case of natural disasters. Bulgaria is also experiencing natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods. Therefore, a common task of Bulgaria and Japan is how to prevent damages when natural disasters occur. I am not sure whether I could qualify them as successful examples of the Japanese model, but I think that sharing the experience of the two countries in this area is useful and there have already been a couple of attempts in this direction.
It seems difficult for me to identify similarities and differences between Japan and Bulgaria and to count out correctly the number of them, because there are some geographical, historical and cultural differences and some advantages and disadvantages of one or the other country. But regardless of some similarities and differences, it seems important to make continuous efforts to cultivate and maintain traditional relations of friendship between Japan and Bulgaria.
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