Interview • 08 September, 2021

Jun Yamada: We share the same kind of responsibility toward the world

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There are many nations in the world that have experienced the horrors of nuclear weapons. This act not only threatened the life of humanity and civilization, many people lost their lives because of that. The Semipalatinsk test site, the history of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not only tragic pages of the last century, but also a reflection of the damage caused by its destructive power. In this regard, we spoke with Jun Yamada, Ambassador of Japan to the Republic of Kazakhstan.

- Ambassador, it was not long before you started your mission in Kazakhstan. What is your first impression of our country?

- Everything is big here. Big sky, big space, big potential and big heart of the people.

Also, I am so exhilarated to feel the similarity with Japan – not only that we look quite similar, but in fact we seem to think and feel in a similar way. One more thing is the fine balance among many colorful and diverse elements – language, ethnicity, religion and culture. This sense of harmony is felt everywhere and it is very special, precious example to the rest of the world.

- Kazakhstan and Japan both have suffered from the terrible horrors of nuclear weapons. We know very well that the Japanese government supported Kazakhstan in this issue with Semipalatinsk test site. Can you tell us about the joint work in this direction?

- The 20th century was sadly the most tragic pages of the history of humankind. Some places embody that memory as well as lessons for the future and both Semipalatinsk and Hiroshima are typical cases. In this sense we share the same kind of responsibility toward the world so that the humans could be spared from such nuclear horrors. That is why Semei remains special to us. Apart from our joint efforts toward the denuclearization of Kazakhstan which started immediately after your independence, there is a bridge across Ertis river built on the basis of Japanese loan assistance at the beginning of the century.

Since then Kazakhstan made a great progress in building a strong and rich economy, our focus shifted to so-called Grass-roots human security assistance in cooperation with local authorities and civil societies. For 15 years through 2004-2018, we have completed 19 such projects in total sum of over 1.2 million USD in Semey, rebuilding and modernizing schools, kindergartens, etc. Also, we have various ongoing relationship between Universities, Schools and NGOs from both sides.

- What about trade and economic cooperation between the two countries? How did the pandemic affect trade turnover?

- For the past 30 years, the trade turnover between our countries has been steadily growing both ways. The pandemic has caused some reduction of the amount in our trade – roughly assumed to be by 25%. It is difficult to evaluate this amount right now, but I think such result has been expected and inevitable, given the literally global nature of this unprecedented challenge. Important thing for us all is to keep our resilience and determination to reestablish all the possible economic activities after overcoming the pandemic – or even without waiting it. For the moment, we still need some continued patience and perseverance, but at the same time I believe the people’s energy and aspiration for the new start has also been accumulating considerably by now. Incidentally, not everything was dismal and doomed in 2020 – we had the news of the very first shipment of Kazakh horse meat to the Japanese market last year.

- Japan is one of the 10 largest investors in the country. What attracts Japanese investors to Kazakhstan? And in what areas do Japanese companies operate in the country?

- The attraction of your potential has been very strong and magnetic from the very beginning of independence. Today the Japanese Chamber of Commerce in Kazakhstan comprises 16 world-famous Japanese companies in the field of extraction of oil, uranium mining, natural-disaster prevention, automobile, medical equipment, etc. On the government-to-government level, we have the Joint Commission on Economic Cooperation, which has been meeting since 2009, jointly discussing the improvement of trade and investment climate, natural resources exploration, assistance to new industry and investment. The latest – 7th – meeting took place in June 2018 in Kazakhstan. As I have said, I am sure that all the players involved in it are already preparing for the jump-start immediately after the pause by COVID-19 pandemic, prioritizing the actions not only to recover the caused damage but also to create totally new possibilities. There could be objective needs and potential in such areas as environmental protection and health/medical directions, given the lessons we have had in recent years. As they say, we are supposed to build back better.

- How would you assess the results of the Central Asia+Japan dialogue? Have the tasks originally set been completed? As an ambassador, can you tell us about the role of Kazakhstan in this political initiative?

- Japan sincerely wishes to contribute to the development of the entire Central Asian region toward becoming a genuinely open, stable and self-sustained co-space. In order to serve as a catalyst in that process, Japan proposed to create “Central Asia + Japan” dialogue back in 2004. As you know, this exact format has become so popular and today we have seen many other “5+1” frameworks mushrooming in all the possible combinations. We are duly proud to have had the vision and foresight be the very first example of such successful formula. Symbolically, the first Ministerial meeting of “Central Asia plus Japan” took place here in Kazakhstan, epitomizing the position and incomparable role of this great country in the regional context. I hope that the next face-to-face Ministerial meeting after pandemic might well come back to Nur-Sultan, making a full historical circle. Compared to the initial days of this forum, the substance of dialogue has been increasingly shifting to truly mutual, equal and two-way nature, taking up such new issues as clean energy for which we can find a way forward only jointly. We welcome this development wholeheartedly, as it is the best testimony to the maturity and correctness of our initial vision.

- Recent years have been full of significant historical events for the people of Japan. The new era has begun with succession of the new emperor, the government was replaced. What do these changes mean for Japan?

- As you know, Japan uses an original calendar according to the reign of each Emperor in parallel to the 、universal western calendar. On 1st of May, 2019, His Imperial Majesty Emperor Naruhito acceded to the throne and new “Reiwa” era started since then. This name embodies an idea for the ultimate harmony among all the humans in its original meaning. All the Japanese people sincerely aspire for the arrival of such era not only in our own country but also worldwide and wish to contribute to the development of the whole human being toward that direction, however difficult or long the process could be. Because it is the only correct direction for us. Otherwise, we are doomed to perish as a species sooner than later.

- The Tokyo Olympics, which have been postponed for one year, was held this year despite the pandemic. What is the attitude in Japanese society?

- When we decided to put our candidacy for hosting the 2020 game 10 years ago, nobody could have anticipated this situation of the entire world caught in pandemic. Last year it was decided to postpone the whole games for a year, but the overall situation did not necessarily change as hoped. It is true that the mood of the general public in Japan was not too enthusiastic about going ahead with the games – rather we had many anxieties and skepticism prior to the beginning of the event. However, we took it seriously to fulfill our international commitment and host this greatest festivity for the entire mankind, hoping that it may send the ultimate message of hope and unity in the middle of the unprecedented difficulties. Naturally we had to take every conceivable precaution and some extraordinary measures, like excluding all the spectators from the arena.

But things have started and the principal actors are exclusively the athletes themselves. For all the existing restrictions and unusual elements, we witnessed the same excitement and exhilaration from the ultimate beauty of human perfection, self-discipline and perseverance. Naturally we expect the very best results from our respective national team, but never hesitated to applaud each and every man and woman from all over the world, showing the very best moment of their abilities. This transcends any organizational or bureaucratic troubles and confusions during the process of its preparation and all the past struggle or worries suddenly turn out to be every bit worth for that – setting the stage for these excellent representatives of human possibilities.

Incidentally, according to the most of social network users in Japan, indeed beyond its border, were in agreement that it was Kazakhstan which won the absolute Gold medal already during the opening ceremony, fascinating and immediately winning the heart of millions of people with such beautiful and sophisticated costumes for the flag bearers as well as the entire team.

This year Kazakhstan marks the 30th anniversary of the independence. Next year marks the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Kazakhstan and Japan. Your mission as an ambassador coincided with this historic moment. How would you assess the work done at this time? In what direction will the cooperation between the two countries develop in the future?

- If it is a human life, 30th anniversary means a lot – already mature enough and widely experienced with many things, and yet so much new horizon is still ahead of him or her. I am sure that our relations are exactly at such turning point. Only the last decade has witnessed the visits by your respected Elbasy twice to Japan and our Prime Minister’s visit to Kazakhstan. Right now it is a bit difficult to predict the immediate future because of the pandemic situation, but even under such conditions we had very fruitful telephone meetings between Prime Minister Suga and President Tokayev, as well as between the House of Representatives Speaker Oshima and Chairperson of Majilis Nigmatulin in May this year.

As I have said earlier, we could turn the lessons from pandemic into something extraordinary and positive, making use of the extra energy and aspiration which have been accumulated since last year and now seeking the moment of their emancipation. In that sense I am optimistic and we will soon identify the direction through close and mutual consultations.

- Are there any similarities between Japanese and Kazakh culture? What features of the Kazakh people did you notice which was new for you?

- In fact, I have difficulty finding what is completely different between our two nations. If you ask any fellow Kazakh people who spent some periods in Japan, they will be able to tell you how many aspects of our life could be so very similar. Not only our appearance, but so many other things are indistinguishable between us. The extraordinary life of Mr. Tetsuro AHIKO who became a true bridge between our two nations is yet another testimony to such spiritual closeness we have.

There must be some academic or historic explanation for such miraculous affinity between us and I look forward to a fresh revelation by our best researchers in the near future. For one thing, our ancestors were also nomads for so many centuries before any form of agriculture set in and the traces of such period have been recently recognized as the World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.

- At the beginning of the year at a meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, the leaders of the member states - Japan, the USA, India and Australia discussed important issues in the Indo-Pacific region. One end of the problem also touched China. What is the nature of modern Japanese-Chinese relations?

- As for the “Quad”, let me dissipate any misconception. This unity of minds doesn’t embody anything exclusive, but rather seek for identifying and guarding the ultimately universal values for everybody – the rule of law, freedom of navigation, peaceful settlement of any dispute, democracy, territorial integrity etc. Also, understandably they touched upon the possible cooperation to overcome COVID-19 pandemic. Nobody should be alarmed to see these values prevailing, unless they are adhering to something else which are equally universally “negative”.

As for China, this great country and civilization has been Japan’s closest neighbor for many millennia. I am sure we have very deep mutual understanding and respect formulated through such long association. We will consider our present and future relations with China put into such historical perspective, at the same time always based on the universal values I have just mentioned.

- Have you had the opportunity to try some Kazakh national cuisine, to learn about culture and traditions?

- I am only beginning to appreciate the infinite richness and depth of your culinary tradition. As a Japanese I might be rather unusual, preferring all the meat dishes to fish and seafood. As such Kazakhstan is a paradise for me and now fully appreciate the delicacy of horse meat, too. Incidentally in Japan, too, we have several regions where the people traditionally eat and cherish horse meat. I am sure someday beshbarmak and manti could well become a national dish for the Japanese people, too! The endless varieties of milk products are also very fascinating.

- What are your best wishes to Kazakh people on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Independence?

- I sincerely wish to congratulate all the Kazakh people on the brilliant path and achievements since regaining your independence 30 years ago. You have made a remarkable success without any exaggeration. At the same time, please preserve and cherish your own deep identity and culture, which go back far longer into the past history, since our life should go on like a flow without any disruption, always balancing between past and present. As for your future, it will become ever brighter and I am totally optimistic about it.

- Lastly, could you also address readers of the Egemen Qazaqstan newspaper?

- Thank you very much for giving me such an opportunity to address to you directly, immediately after my arrival to this wonderful country. Newspapers hold a unique role as the mirror of history at each moment of it and their importance will never change even in the era of world wide web.

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