Lundi 22 Avril 2019  
 

N°124 - Quatrième trimestre 2018

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  S.E.M. / H.E. Hiroshi Hirabayashi

Japan: Getting a New Lease on Life

Undermined by a decade-long economic recession and jolted by the North Korea crisis, Japans stands at a key crossroads on the eve of the november 2003 legislative elections. H.E. Hiroshi Hirabayashi, the Ambassador of Japan to France, describes Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s reform campaign and what the country is doing to rekindle growth and ensure its status reflects its real role on the international stage.


The Diplomatic Letter: Mr. Ambassador, Elected to serve as Japan’s Prime Minister on 26 April 2001, Junichiro Koizumi is the symbol of a new generation of Japanese political leaders with a brand-new style of governing. Would you describe the strides the Koizumi government has made in the political arena for our readers? Has the globalization process brought significant changes in Japanese society over the past decade?

H.E. Hiroshi Hirabayashi: Japan is going through one of the most crucial transition periods in its history. The Japanese economy has been hit by a decade-long recession, due in great part to the “economic bubble” of the late 1980s and the early 1990s, but also to a variety of complex structural problems. The Japanese growth model, which worked so well until the 1980s, became outmoded in the face of new economic realities. Mr. Koizumi is carrying out an ambitious program of structural reforms “without sanctuary”, in order to revive Japanese society and ensure its future well-being. Japan must overcome the problem of an aging population. Such a far-reaching social and economic reform obviously demands great patience and perseverance, and will require a major shift in the Japanese people’s frame of mind.
But Japanese society has been constantly changing since its inception, and has already begun adapting to the new demands of the ongoing reform as well as the globalization process. Our forebears courageously overcame the troubled times of the Meiji period, during the second half of the 19th century. They weathered the period of confusion that followed Japan’s defeat in W.W.II, moving forward to reinvigorate the country. Over the past thirty years Japan has managed to overcome a string of crises (the oil shocks and the rapid rise of the yen) that hurt its economy as well as the daily lives of Japanese. Yet in the end, these trials have enabled us to bolster our economic power and regain confidence. For the first time since the war, Japan has had to face deflation. But the lessons of the past along with our past failures should help us build a successful future. In that sense, Mr. Koizumi’s structural reform has given us the courage and hope we need to overcome the new challenges ahead of us.    
The reform has already begun to bear fruit. With the first signs of economic recovery (the Japanese economy grew 1% in the second quarter of 2003), I noticed a considerable improvement in my countrymen’s morale. I have also noticed that Japanese firms are opening up to foreign capital, after being restructured and gaining wider flexibility. Young Japanese entrepreneurs are displaying greater creativity and energy, especially in the new technology sector. Mr. Koizumi has underscored the importance of reenergizing Japan and turning it into a “country focused on creating new technologies and sciences.”

T.D.L.: While still the world’s leading financial center and second economy, Japan is facing deflation for the fifth straight year. What is the Japanese government doing to reform the banking system? Will encouraging foreign investment have a key role in the reform process? Will the creation of special zones help to accelerate deregulation and push forward the reform process? On a broader level, what new steps is the government taking to turn around an economic and social system undermined by nearly a decade of stagnation?

H.E.H.H.: The broad lines of action aimed at fighting deflation, within the scope of the structural reform, are as follows: reforming the financial system, deregulation, reenergizing our industries and creating jobs, and tax and budget reform. This is a tremendous challenge, but as Mr. Koizumi likes to say: “no reform, no growth.”
Reforming our banking system is absolutely essential in order to stabilize our financial system. The government is focusing it efforts on resolving the problem of bad loans, which now equal nearly 20% of Japanese GDP. Japan launched a “Program for Financial Revival” in October 2002, with the aim of reducing by half the non-performing loans ratio of Japan’s major banks by the close of 2004. An action plan was also launched in March 2003 to help small- and medium-sized banking institutions struggling to get rid of their bad loans. It will help them build long-term trust with their clients, by focusing on “relationship banking.” We are starting to see positive results in certain banking institutions, as the price of their stock begins to rise.
With regard to deregulation, the “Law on Special Zones for Structural Reform,” promulgated in December 2002, allows regional areas to take advantage of special regulations that depart from Japanese common law. The goal is to reenergize regions laid low by the crisis by eliminating administrative procedures thought to hinder the creation of new businesses. This law is a perfect reflection of the guiding principle behind Mr. Koizumi’s reform: moving “from the Public Sector to the Private Sector, from the State to the Regions.” Local governing bodies put forward 117 applications for special deregulation zones, which were approved in May 2003. Some of these special zones could eventually be extended to the whole country, to help accelerate the structural reform process.
It is important to bear in mind that Japan has numerous strong assets that will help it achieve an economic “renaissance”: advanced technologies, significant private savings, and a stable society. The economic crisis has also had a positive impact: Japan is gradually opening up to the outside world, and encouraging greater foreign investments within its borders. The Japan Investment Council has been looking for ways to increase inward foreign direct investment since 1994. Mr. Koizumi decided to speed up this process, launching new measures in January 2003 with a view to doubling the cumulative amount of inward FDI within the next five years. Foreign investments are no longer seen as a threat, on the contrary. Present-day Japan sees foreign investments as a motor for making deep-reaching reforms in the country’s economic fabric.

T.D.L.: Included in the “axis of evil” condemned by Washington, North Korea has become Japan’s biggest security threat since it resumed its nuclear program. In light of Tokyo’s recent efforts to normalize relations with Pyongyang, how can your country put an end to the “nuclear blackmail” being exercised by its neighbor? Could this latest development induce your country to lend its support to the U.S. “antimissile shield”? Will it influence the interpretation of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which stipulates that Japan may maintain only self-defense forces? Could this geopolitical conflict reopen the debate on the use of nuclear dissuasion, a concept fiercely opposed by the Japanese people?

H.E.H.H.: The North Korea question concerns peace and stability throughout Northeast Asia, and the safety of the international community as a whole. Japan is deeply concerned not only by North Korea’s nuclear-powered military ambitions and acquisition of mid- and long-range missiles, but also by the problem of the kidnapping of Japanese citizens by that same country. When Prime Minister Koizumi visited Pyongyang, in September 2002, Mr. Kim Jong Il formally admitted that Japanese nationals had been abducted, and offered an apology. However, his subsequent words and actions have belied that admission, and betrayed the trust of the international community. Japan believes that these problems – be they tied to the nuclear program, or the missile question, or even abductions – must be addressed and resolved as a whole, through peaceful and diplomatic means. In this regard, Japan is paying great heed to the 6-way multilateral talks that got underway in Beijing in late August 2003. Japan means to push forward with its efforts to resolve these problems by working hand-in-hand with all the countries involved, including France. In 1998, North Korea conducted a missile test over the Japanese archipelago. This is one of the reasons Japan is so concerned about the growing threat posed by missile proliferation. We intend to do everything in our power to diminish these risks. Japan is working with the United States in a joint research program on an antimissile defense system. It is also reflecting on the best way to develop, obtain and set up such a system.
As for Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, this article expresses our country’s determination to never again resort to force to resolve conflicts. This is very important for Japan, a country that has experienced the horrors of war firsthand. It is only natural that the interpretation of the Constitution should spur wide debate. Given the brand-new situation on the world stage, we  believe we are perfectly justified in launching a national debate on the best way to ensure the safety of our country and the role it should play in ensuring world peace and security.
There are many outside Japan who share our belief that Japan is gradually changing its view on nuclear dissuasion, because of North Korea’s nuclear program. Yet as the only country in the world to have experienced the ravages of the atomic bomb, Japan knows better than anyone what a horror it truly is. With regard to nuclear dissuasion, we are quite satisfied with the way the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty is working. Finally, we are convinced that strengthening the Non-Proliferation Treaty has helped make the Japanese people safer. With that in mind, we are working on developing peaceful uses for nuclear energy. For all these reasons, I find it inconceivable that Japan could acquire nuclear weapons and change its stance on this issue. Those who advocate nuclear energy for military ends comprise a tiny handful of the population.

T.D.L.: The U.S. and Japan have taken similar stances on the war in Iraq and the North Korea crisis. How would you describe current relations between your two countries? Has the new climate on the world stage altered your views on Japan’s military dependence on the United States? During Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visit to Russia on 9-12 January 2003, Russia and Japan reaffirmed a shared desire to build stronger bilateral ties. How can the territorial dispute over the Kurile Islands be resolved?

H.E.H.H.: Japan and the United States are the very best of allies. They have built very close ties across the board, including in the economic, political and security fields. These ties have helped to foster peace and stability not only in Asia, but throughout the entire international community. Prime Minister Koizumi intends to cooperate as closely as possible with the United States to steadfastly combat the threats which endanger world peace and global security. In May 2003, Mr. Koizumi visited President Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. The two leaders reaffirmed that Japan and the U.S. have a “global alliance” that has an important role to play on the world stage.
Europe has formed a variety of alliances that ensure collective security and foster dialogue, such as NATO and the OSCE. This has yet to happen in Asia, which is why it is so important for the U.S. to maintain its foothold on the continent. The Japan-U.S. security regime is absolutely essential in this regard. It is nevertheless true that Japan welcomes the launching of other initiatives aimed at enhancing dialogue and security cooperation in Asia, and is working hard to encourage them.
Turning to relations between Japan and Russia, we have yet to resolve the problem of the northern territories, an unfortunate legacy of World War Two. Japan and Russia do not have a peace treaty at this point in time. This has been a major roadblock to building “unmarred” bilateral relations. Japan would like to establish friendly and cordial ties with Russia, and resolve this issue. We should keep in mind that Japan and Russia have greatly expanded their ties in recent years. When Prime Minister Koizumi traveled to Russia this past January, he and President Putin agreed to expand bilateral ties across the board, with the aim of resolving the problem of the northern territories and signing a peace treaty. This goal is clearly laid out in the Japan-Russia Action Plan issued at that time.

T.D.L.: At the Japan-ASEAN summit held 5 November 2002 in Phnom Penh, Prime Minister Koizumi reconfirmed Japan’s support for the Initiative for Development in East Asia (IDEA) and the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI). What hurdles remain to be overcome before Japan becomes a full partner in the regional integration process? Your country signed a free trade agreement with Singapore in January 2002. Is this confirmation that Japan hopes to ease trade restrictions with other countries in the region? Could signing a customs agreement with South Korea help to improve relations between your two countries?

H.E.H.H.: The first Japan-ASEAN summit was held in 1977, ten years after ASEAN was founded. The first ASEAN +3 Summit (Japan, Korea, China and ASEAN) was held in Kuala Lumpur in 1997, as ASEAN celebrated its thirtieth anniversary. This shows the great importance Japan attaches to this organization, and its strong desire to build greater cohesion within ASEAN and stimulate growth throughout the region. At the Japan-ASEAN summit, in November 2002, Prime Minister Koizumi reiterated his support for the “Initiative for ASEAN Integration,” showing Japan’s determination to deepen its ties with ASEAN. Japan is currently working on a project to create a comprehensive economic partnership with ASEAN. The goal is to strengthen economic ties throughout the region. On the one hand, we are considering ways to create a structure that enhances overall solidarity between Japan and ASEAN. On the other, at the bilateral level, we are continuing our talks on ways to heighten economic cooperation with each of ASEAN’s member countries. As you pointed out, in January 2002 Japan signed an agreement with Singapore calling for the creation of a free trade zone. ASEAN is a priority zone for Japan, second only to Mexico, with which we will sign a free trade agreement something this autumn. We have already held working meetings with Thailand and the Philippines to this same end, and also plan to hold meetings with Malaysia.  
The drive to build greater economic solidarity between ASEAN, the United States, China, Australia and New Zealand can only stimulate the development of the East Asia region, which remains our primary objective. We hope to step up relations outside the economic arena as well. It was agreed at the November 2002 ASEAN-Japan Summit, based on an initiative put forward by Mr. Koizumi, to make 2003 “ASEAN-Japan  Exchange Year.” This event is designed to promote exchanges in a wide variety of areas, including in the cultural and intellectual worlds, and is an excellent example of the dynamic partnership between Japan and ASEAN.
Japan is also looking to sign a free trade agreement with the Republic of Korea, which is playing a vital role in the development of East Asia. To that end, Japan and South Korea have set up a joint research group comprised of top industrial, academic and government figures. Prime Minister Koizumi visited the Republic of Korea in February 2003. He and President Roh Moo Hyun confirmed their desire to preserve the friendly climate that has reigned between our two countries since they jointly organized the Football World Cup, and to build forward-looking bilateral relations. Japan believes that maintaining close ties with South Korea is  vital to finding a peaceful solution to the North Korea nuclear crisis, which is of great concern to the entire international community.

T.D.L.: Southeast Asia has not been spared from the plague of international terrorism, with this invisible enemy striking Bali in 2002. What role can Japan play in ensuring collective security in this part of the world? With over 90% of your country’s exports transited by sea, how is Japan promoting greater regional cooperation to fight the rise in incidences of piracy in the region? What are some of the long-term solutions supported by Japan to ensure the safety of the petroleum shipping lane, which crosses through the Straight of Malacca?

H.E.H.H.: The recent wave of terrorist attacks offers clear proof that Southeast Asia is not immune to this danger. Terrorism has no borders. The safety of the countries in this region is extremely important to Japan, for the following reasons: they are located very close to us, they are key economic partners, and, finally, they border the commercial shipping lane. Japan has done its utmost to cooperate within this region in a wide variety of ways. As for the fight against terrorism, Japan has decided to offer its help to the countries affected, making them better able to fight this scourge. There is no collective security structure in this region, like NATO. Regional cooperation forums, such as the ASEAN Regional Forum, are still coming together. Japan is working hard to heighten security in the region, by  playing a direct role in creating and bolstering regional cooperation structures, at both the bilateral and multilateral level.
The rise in incidences of piracy in the region is very troubling. Japan is actively combating piracy, working in cooperation with ASEAN and India. Japan has put forward several initiatives in this area, most notably by cooperating more closely with international institutions and organizing regional conferences. It has also suggested concluding an agreement to tackle this problem. On the bilateral level, Japan sends out vessels from the Maritime Security Agency to take part in joint training exercises with interested parties.

T.D.L.: The world’s number-one donor country, Japan hosted the Third International Conference on African Development (TICAD III) in the autumn of 2003. Could you outline Japan’s main objectives in granting public aid to developing countries? In May 2003 Prime Minister Koizumi put forward “Japan’s Initiative for Cooperation with Africa.” Could you tell our readers how this South-South cooperation will work?

H.E.H.H.: Despite a significant drop in Public Development Aid (PDA) since 1998, Japan is still the second leading donor country, behind the United States. In line with international cooperation trends, Japanese aid strives to meet the challenges of the millennium objectives by helping spur development in recipient countries. This is why in recent years Japan has become actively involved in strengthening peace and ensuring the security of human beings. Bolstered by its experience in East Asia, Japan now stresses the importance of economic growth, to reduce poverty on a lasting basis. We are working actively to spur economic growth by helping create a favorable economic and judicial climate, and by promoting trade, investments, and a stronger private sector. We are also encouraging wider technology transfers. The situation in developing countries varies greatly. We hence believe it is essential to take an approach adapted to each individual situation.
 In May 2003, Prime Minister Koizumi put forward “Japan’s Initiative for Cooperation with Africa” with the aim of bolstering NEPAD through the TICAD process. This initiative focuses primarily on the following three pillars:
– Human-centered Development (education, drinking water, health care, etc.)
– Poverty reduction through economic growth (infrastructures, private sector, etc.)
– Consolidation of peace (mine removal, etc.).
Japan lays great weight on “human security.” In 2003 it granted $200 million to the “United Nations Human Security Fund,” along with the $15 billion it contributed as “aid for local small-scale human security projects”. Moreover, at the TICAD III which was held in Tokyo from 29 September to 1 October 2003, Japan promised $1 billion for the African continent.
We believe that the Asian experience offers great lessons that could help to spur economic growth and reduce poverty in Africa. We are consequently promoting greater South-South cooperation, in particular between Asia and Africa. This cooperation is focused in the technical arena. It helps countries with relatively similar situations share their experiences through more effective technical cooperation and build greater mutual solidarity. Between 1998 and 2001, for instance, some 1,500 Africans received training in Asian countries. We plan to step up this type of cooperation in coming years. In the commercial arena, we founded the Asia-Africa Investment and Technology Promotion Center (the “Hippalos Center”) in 1999, in Malaysia. Finally, Japan is still working hard to develop and promote a new variety of high-yield rice, called “Nerica” (New Rice for Africa). By making this new blend of African and Asian rice, we will be able to help Africa overcome its food supply problems.

T.D.L.: As a candidate for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, what is Japan’s view on the divisions over the military intervention against Iraq’s Baathist regime? Is the Security Council still a faithful reflection of the planet’s balance of power? Already in  involved in noncombatant missions in both the Afghan and Iraqi theaters, does your country plan to play a greater role in peacekeeping operations around the globe? As a signer of the June 2002 Kyoto Protocol, what does Japan think should be done to spur greater international cooperation on environmental problems?

H.E.H.H.: The U.N. Security Council is an extremely important body for ensuring peace and security around the globe. Japan would like the Council to be truly effective, and to play its full role. As concerns the Iraq question, Japan has been saying from the outset that it is not an issue of “Iraq versus the United States,” but instead of “Iraq’s proliferation of weapons of mass destruction versus the international community.” It is highly unfortunate that the Security Council was not able to find a common ground concerning the military intervention in Iraq. Japan hopes, nonetheless, to see the Security Council play a key role in Iraqi reconstruction, by overcoming the differences of opinion between the various countries.
The number of countries belonging to the United Nations has tripled since the organization was created. The number of non-permanent members sitting on the Security Council was increased from six to ten in 1965, but the lineup of  permanent members has remained unchanged. There have been great changes on the international scene in recent years, in both the political and economic arenas. In short, the Security Council has lost a good deal of its legitimacy, and is not truly representative of the international community. As concerns Japan specifically, we believe that our country has not been accorded the role it deserves to play, in view of its significant contribution. Japan contributes roughly 19.5% of the organization’s budget. We therefore believe that a reform should be carried out, to ensure that the Security Council’s make-up reflects the present state of the international community and to enhance its powers.
While our country is not a permanent member of the Security Council, it nevertheless does its utmost to help maintain world peace and stability. To that end, in 1992 Japan enacted the “International Peace Cooperation Law” , so that Japan’s Self-Defense Forces could participate in the international community’s peacekeeping efforts. Various units in our Self-Defense Forces have since taken part in peacekeeping operations in places like Cambodia, Mozambique or East Timor. Two additional laws have subsequently been enacted. The October 2001 “Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law”, recently renewed, has enabled us to deploy our forces in logistics operations in the Indian Ocean. The “Special Measures Law for Iraq”, approved in July 2003, will allow us to deploy civilian and military staff in Iraq at some future time. Both laws are good illustrations of Japan’s efforts to rise to the new challenges facing the international community, including those beyond the scope of peacekeeping operations.
As far as protecting the environment is concerned, this is a key priority for Japan. Our country presided over the highly successful Kyoto COP3 Conference, then ratified the Kyoto Protocol in June 2002, at approximately the same time as the European Union. Japan considers the environment a vital sphere in its foreign policy, and is striving to set up an system for international cooperation on environmental issues. As far as concrete actions go, we are focusing on three main areas. The first area involves the enactment of international laws. As for the Kyoto Protocol, we are working hard to persuade Russia – every time we meet with its top leaders – that Russian ratification of the treaty could render it truly effective. We are also urging the United States to reconsider its decision to not participate in the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change, and to step up its efforts in this area. The second area concerns aid to developing countries. In 2002, at the Johannesburg Summit, we issued the “Environmental Conservation Initiative for Sustainable Development (EcoISD).” This is another clear example of our commitment to development aid that targets the environment. The third area is cooperation with international institutions, to which we are one of the leading donors. This is Japan’s way of expressing its belief that the planet belongs to each and every one of us, and that there must be a “global sharing” of  responsibilities. Japan continues to enjoin the international community to show greater solidarity as concerns the environment.

T.D.L.: As Japan’s second export market and leading source of foreign investment, the European Union is one of your country’s key trading partners. Could you summarize the broad lines of the Action Plan for EU-Japan Cooperation for our readers? What can our two countries do to further strengthen their trade ties? At the EU-Japan Summit held in Athens on 1-2 May 2003, both partners reaffirmed their desire to enhance the bilateral political dialogue. In what specific areas could this be done?

H.E.H.H.: In an attempt to give bilateral relations a fresh boost, we issued the “Action Plan for EU-Japan Cooperation” in December 2001, launching the “Decade of Japan-Europe Cooperation.” The Action Plan focuses on four priority goals: promoting peace and security; strengthening our economic and trade partnerships; cooperating on global and social issues; and, finally, fostering bilateral cultural contacts and people-to-people exchanges. It is true that fifteen years ago, most people thought of Japan-EU relations in terms of economic and trade ties. We intend to use the Action Plan to promote greater dialogue and exchanges across the entire spectrum. Up until now, Japan has laid special emphasis on cultural exchanges, but at the bilateral level. In future, we hope to expand our exchanges with Europe as a whole, and thus help young Japanese and young Europeans adopt a more global perspective, so that they can leave behind their cultural differences and share their visions of the future. The “Japan-EU Regulatory Reform Dialogue” has been held every year in Brussels and in Tokyo since 1994. Our goal is to make the functioning of both markets’ economies more transparent, and to improve the bilateral trade climate. The mutual investment climate has improved greatly, especially since the 2002 implementation of the “Agreement on Mutual Recognition.” The “EU-Japan Investment Initiative,” put forward in May 2003 at the Japan-EU Summit in Athens, is a response to Prime Minister Koizumi’s pledge to double inward foreign investment in Japan. The summit also gave both parties a chance to exchange views on the North Korea crisis, the Iraq conflict, the Middle East peace process, the reconstruction of Afghanistan, and the consolidation of peace in Sri Lanka. Japan was particularly pleased by the consensus on the danger represented by North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, and of the heightened awareness of the problem of Japanese nationals kidnapped by North Korea.
Until the next Japan-EU summit, our cooperation efforts should focus in on the following areas: resolving regional conflicts; restarting the WTO Doha Round, which broke off in Cancun; protecting intellectual property; improving access to generic drugs in developing countries; ensuring water supply and sustainable development, in liaison with the Third World Water Forum in Kyoto and the Johannesburg Summit; and, lastly, working together to prepare the 2005 Japan-EU Year of People-to-People Exchanges.

T.D.L.: Franco-Japanese relations have picked up considerably since France ended its nuclear testing program in the Pacific. Was the “France-Japan: the Spirit of Partnership” campaign, which ran from 2001 to 2003, a success? During his stopover in France on 29 April 2003, Prime Minister Koizumi told President Jacques Chirac he would like to see France and Japan work together more closely in the water sector. What specific form might this cooperation take?

H.E.H.H.: The ”France-Japan Spirit of Partnership” campaign, launched in 2001, comes on the heels of the “Le Japon, c’est possible” campaign launched by the French government in 1992. The new campaign’s title, “France-Japan Spirit of Partnership,” summarizes its primary objective: promoting cross investments between France and Japan. Both campaigns were a resounding success. Franco-Japanese trade relations were long marred by mutual fears and misunderstandings. But in less than ten years, bilateral ties have grown considerably and given rise to an important partnership. France has been one of the top investors in Japan since 1999. In 2002, thanks in great part to the efforts of the French Agency for International Investments (AFII), Japanese firms invested a record 435.6 billion yen in France, accounting for 9.9% of total outward Japanese investment. Japan hopes to further strengthen its partnership with France through the “France-Japan Spirit of Partnership” campaign, which has been extended for an additional two years. Let me take this opportunity to announce that a special symposium will be held on 3 December 2003, to help French investors move into the Japanese market and facilitate administrative procedures. It is being jointly organized by the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) and the concerned French ministries.  
Water is a key issue for the international community, and one of the fields in which France and Japan have been cooperating very effectively. The water problem was on the agenda of three of this year’s major international conferences: the Third World Water Forum, the G8 Summit in Evian, and TICAD III. Together, Japan and France supply roughly 40% of PDA targeting water supply access and sanitation systems. Our countries hope to combine their know-how and technology to create greater synergies in this area. They exchanged ideas on how to boost Franco-Japanese cooperation in the water sector during the Third World Water Forum. Their subsequent declaration mentions three specific projects in the Senegal River Basin, Djibouti, and Laos, confirming Japan and France’s shared desire to become world leaders in the water sector.  

T.D.L.:  Will the recent appointment of two former Prime Ministers to chair the Japan-France Dialogue Forum heighten its role as a booster of bilateral ties? In view of the great success of the Japanese Cultural Center, which opened its doors in Paris five years ago, what else can Japan do to promote its tourism assets with the French public and Europeans at large?
 
H.E.H.H.: The idea to create the Japan-France Dialogue Forum was launched by Mr. Chirac and Mr. Murayama in 1995, during the former Japanese Prime Minister’s visit to France. It is an advisory body to the heads of state and government of France and Japan, both great powers on their respective continents. It helps them reflect not only on issues affecting bilateral relations, but also on global-scale problems. The JFDF is comprised of seven leading figures from our countries’ political, economic and cultural circles. Since its inauguration, it has been chaired by former prime ministers Mr. Yasuhiro Nakasone and Mr. Raymond Barre. The recent nomination of two more former prime ministers is logical, in view of this forum’s goals. Mr. Alain Juppe and Mr. Ryutaro Hashimoto are extremely well acquainted with our respective countries, and key players in recent Franco-Japanese relations. I am greatly pleased by the relaunching of this friendly forum, and hope it will help to further strengthen France-Japan relations. Japan have France have long-standing ties that encompass a wide range of activities. Our current bilateral relations are excellent. If there is one area that could nonetheless be bolstered, it is the number of French tourists visiting Japan, which currently stands at roughly 80,000 per year. The French public is still widely unaware of Japan’s highly diverse landscapes and great riches. Japanese tourists, on the other hand, continue to flock to the various regions of France (some one million/year). In fact, over 16 million Japanese travel abroad every year, while just 5 million foreign nationals visit our land. This is very unfortunate, given Japan’s vast tourism potential. In an attempt to rectify this imbalance, in January 2003 Prime Minister Koizumi initiated a new program to promote tourism in Japan. The “Yokoso Japan! (Welcome to Japan!)” promotion has been launched at the international level, to supply foreign tourists with all the necessary information as well as special travel offers. We have a great deal to learn from France, the world’s leading tourism destination. We are working to improve our tourism infrastructures and widen the scope of the tourism industry, with the aim of doubling the number of foreigners visiting Japan by 2010.
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