Celebrating 30 years of Azerbaijani-Japanese Diplomacy

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Japan’s Ambassador to Baku, Mr. Junichi Wada, tells Azeri Observer about the plans for the 30th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between the two countries in 2022 and prspective areas for cooperation. He speaks about the Olympic Games hosted by Tokyo this summer, the activities aimed at the promotion of Japanese culture in Azerbaijan and Japanese technologies which can help Baku create a green energy zone in the liberated territories. Finally, he shares what common features he sees in the crafts, clothing and culture of the two nations.

By ELENA KOSOLAPOVA

AZERI OBSERVER STAFF WRITER

Question: This summer Japan hosts the Olympic Games – the biggest international sporting event since the start of the pandemic. Tell us about the preparations for the competition in the new reality. 

Answer: The Olympic and Paralympic Games is a space for leading athletes to come together and disseminate “the power of sports” to the whole world. Now that the world is facing the big problem of the novel coronavirus, on behalf of Japan, I would like to convey my wishes to the whole world – let us unite and overcome the difficulties through the efforts and wisdom of humankind. In my opinion, for the successful delivery of The Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, it was important to ensure the conditions, where all participants and Japanese citizens could feel safe to enjoy the Games. The Japanese Government, Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games worked together in close cooperation with the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee, for the preparation of the measures against the spread of the coronavirus. As the Government of Japan, we will continue to give the highest priority to ensuring a safe and secure environment, and based on the specialized knowledge, will proceed with preparations paying close attention to the infection situation within and outside the country.

Q.: Next year Azerbaijan and Japan will celebrate the 30th anniversary of its diplomatic relations. Can you give us a brief outline of the main achievements during this period? 

A.: The Embassy of Japan in Azerbaijan celebrated the 20th anniversary of its opening in 2020, and next year we will be celebrating the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic relations between Japan and Azerbaijan.  In 1999, the then Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, Komura Masahiko paid the first ever-official visit to Azerbaijan and since then the number of official visits of the representatives of the Japanese Government has multiplied. As an example, I would like to mention the successive visits of Mr. Amari Akira, Chairman of the Japan-Azerbaijan Inter-Parliamentary Friendship League in 2004 and 2015. Most recently, in 2018, the then Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, Kono Taro paid an official visit to Azerbaijan, where he conveyed the “Japan’s Caucasus Initiative” to his counterpart. Although, this visit took place after a 19-year gap since the last visit of Japanese foreign ministers to Azerbaijan, the discussions between Minister Kono and President Aliyev proved extremely fruitful. 

There is also continuous good progress in the cooperation in the energy field – a major pillar of our bilateral economic relations. As an example, the contract on the Production Sharing Agreement of Japanese oil companies related to the oilfield development of ACG (Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli) was extended in September of 2017. Since Azerbaijan gained its independence, the Government of Japan has implemented significant cooperation projects such as loan aid (yen loan), grant aid, technical cooperation, and grassroots/human security grants aimed at supporting national and economic development of the country. In 2020 (Japan’s fiscal year), 10 grassroots grant projects in areas such as medical care, education and water supply were signed with the aim to support the well-being of people in various parts of the country. Such activities of the Japanese Government are highly appreciated by the Azerbaijani Government.

As per the field of cultural exchange, our embassy has been arranging different cultural events for raising the awareness of Azerbaijani people about Japan and Japanese culture, introducing budo (Japanese martial arts), traditional music, and Japanese movies in Baku, Sumgait, Ganja, Sheki and Ismayilli. Speaking of Ismayilli city, it has a friendship relationship agreement with Ito City of Shizuoka Prefecture. It is also very important to mention the mutual people-to-people exchange between the two countries, where we are expecting Azerbaijan’s young generation to deepen their knowledge about Japan while taking part in short-term invitation programs and long-term Japanese Government Scholarship programs.

I will continue to do my best to further strengthen the favorable Japan-Azerbaijan relations we have today, achieved by the hard work of bothourcountry nationals. As I have already mentioned, it will be the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations in 2022. Being a very important year for both countries, we plan to celebrate “Japan-Azerbaijan Friendship Year” by arranging projects in both Azerbaijan and Japan in different fields such as cultural, economic and political areas.

Q.: The pandemic has affected many business plans and international projects. What effect did it have on our bilateral cooperation? 

A.: Suspension of entries of tourists and business people to both Japan and Azerbaijan, inevitably had a considerable negative impact to tourism and business between the two countries. However, it is fair to say that the existing business relationships were kept alive by utilizing available technologies such as online conference facilities, and even some new business partnerships were held online in the past year. 

Q.: In April this year Azerbaijan’s Economy Ministry and Japanese state-owned Nippon Export and Investment Insurance (NEXI) company signed a memorandum of understanding on cooperation. What impetus will this give to our economic and investment cooperation? 

A.: The Memorandum of Understanding signed between NEXI and the Ministry of Economy of Azerbaijan is the basis for cooperation between the two organizations. There is a hope that the MoU will contribute to more active business transactions between the two countries, particularly more Japanese investments and exports from Japan to Azerbaijan.

Q.: The Governments of our countries has recently commenced negotiations for the new Convention replacing the bilateral Tax Convention from 1986. What will the new Convention mean for the businesses of our two countries? 

A.: The first round of negotiations was conducted in a friendly, cooperative and constructive atmosphere. We hope that both sides will conclude the new Convention to promote further mutual investments and economic exchanges between our two countries, while eliminating international double taxation and preventing tax evasion and tax avoidance in the two countries.

Q.: Azerbaijan’s Energy Ministry and Japan’s TEPSCO company signed an agreement on the establishment of the “green energy” zone in the Azerbaijani liberated territories. What Japanese technologies will be brought to Azerbaijan within this project and how will Azerbaijan benefit from them? 

A.: While TEPSCO is a private company and we are not in a position to refer to details of its activities, we are informed that the Ministry of Energy has requested TEPSCO to draw up a master plan on the energy supply to “the Green Energy Zone”. We are aware that TEPSCO is currently working on the plan, thus the kinds of technologies to be proposed in the master plan remain to be seen. I would like to note that TEPSCO has contributed to the development of the energy sector in Azerbaijan for many years, including JICA Projects on construction of Shimal Gas Combined Cycle Power Plants (“Shimal-1” and “Shimal-2”). TEPSCO is also proactively advancing new technologies in the field of renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and small hydropower in many countries.

Q.: Can you tell us in what ways Japan spreads Japanese culture in Azerbaijan? How did these initiatives change during the pandemic? 

A.: In order to strengthen our bilateral cooperation, it is crucial to deepen Azerbaijani people’s understanding of Japanese history and contemporary society through experiencing Japanese culture in various aspects. Therefore, since the opening of our embassy in 2000, we have been engaged in many cultural exchange programs. Japan is the birthplace of many fascinating types of culture, starting from traditional ones such as the tea ceremony and Japanese flower arrangement, to pop culture like anime and cosplay. Our embassy has been introducing Japanese culture to Azerbaijani people through small masterclass events as well as large-scale events such as music concerts. I would also like to mention the different types of martial arts, such as judo, karate, aikido, jujutsu and sumo, which have constantly been developing in Azerbaijan. This April, Japan awarded decorations to Mr. Tarlan Hasanov and Mr. Ahmaddin Rajabli, who have been coaching superior judokas for a long time while establishing the cornerstone of the development of judo in Azerbaijan. Since my appointment in Azerbaijan, I have had an opportunity to meet many martial arts artists including Mr. Hasanov and Mr. Rajabli. Moreover, I was surprised to witness their deep understanding of Japanese spirit through experiencing budo-martial arts. While paying an official visit to the city of Ganja, I could observe the children practicing budo and feel the active popularization of budo both in the capital city of Baku and in the regions. For spreading the arts of budo to more people, we arranged the 1st Azerbaijan Budo-Martial Arts Festival in 2019, when the budo performance of the athletes from judo, para judo, karate, aikido, jujutsu, sumo federations of Azerbaijan attracted around 900 spectators. We are planning to arrange such events continuously. 

As you mentioned, due to the global pandemic we also had to reconsider our approach to culture introduction. As the arrangement of big events with many spectators was impossible, we have put more power on displaying Japanese culture through social media. Being a kendo practitioner, I took part in a video introducing kendo and that video was shown on our social media accounts. We would be glad if you visit our Facebook (@JapanEmb.Azerbaijan) and Instagram (japanemb_baku) accounts. After all, it is best to experience the culture in real life. I really hope for the earliest relief of the pandemic and being able to resume offline events again soon.

Q.: Tell us your impressions of Azerbaijan after about a year in Baku. Do you see any similarities between our countries and the people? 

A.: I arrived in Baku in August of last year, during the mid climb of the COVID-19 spread. There were many restrictions, however, in my free time I explored the Baku streets. I think that it is essential to discover the downtown and back street areas to feel the real spirit of the city. I was deeply impressed by the harmonic fusion of the old and modern traditions not only in the architecture, but also in the lifestyle of the people. After the relaxing of some restrictions during the quarantine regime, I also had a chance to visit the regions of Azerbaijan to feel and see all colors of traditions, culture, and welfare. Every region of Azerbaijan has its unique identity of nature and food taste. I think that Azerbaijani people maintain a good balance in their food culture by using organic herbs, vegetables, and dairy products in their daily life. In addition, when I visited the regions, I found that the artisans of Azerbaijan are very clever with their hands, and I think that it is a significant similarity between our people. For example, stained glass windows made by national Azerbaijani masters called Shebeke reminds me of Hakone Marquetry which is a technique of creating patterns by joining wood together. Traditional Azerbaijani women’s headwear – kelaghayi – reminds me of tango chirimen (silk crepe) made in Kyoto Prefecture, and there are many other such examples. An integral part of Japanese culture called “omotenashi” (Japanese hospitality) has the same shape as traditions of hospitality in Azerbaijan, for instance, hosting a guest at least with a cup of tea with snacks. In both countries, I think hospitality centers on exceeding the guests’ expectations and looking after them wholeheartedly.