Azerbaijan and Japan

An Interview with H.E. Mr. Masamutsi Oki
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
of Japan in Azerbaijan

January 22, 2009
Baku, Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan in the World: What do you see as the main focus of relations between Japan and Azerbaijan? 
Ambassador Masamutsi Oki: The relations between Japan and Azerbaijan are excellent in many fields, and we look forward to even closer ties in the future.  The visit of President Ilham Aliyev to Japan in March 2006 gave an important boost to these excellent relations.  In addition, our two countries have regular high-level visits in both directions.  Every year, we hold a political dialogue at the Deputy Foreign Minister level and a Joint Economic Committee session involving businessmen and government officials to promote economic ties.  All these things make a positive contribution to the development and growth of our bilateral relations.  But of course there is still room for growth in cooperation in various fields.

AIW: How have relations between Azerbaijan and Japan evolved during the post-Soviet period?  How do you rate the level of these relations at present?  What directions in bilateral ties have been most successful and where is additional attention needed? 

Amb. Oki: Japan recognized the independence of Azerbaijan in December 1991 and established diplomatic relations with Baku in September 1992.  In January 2000, Japan opened its embassy in Baku, and in October 2005, Azerbaijan established its embassy in Tokyo.  Japan has allocated three soft loans to Azerbaijan, in 1997, 1999, and 2005 for various electric power generation projects all together amounting to 396 billion yen (440 million U.S dollars).  We are also involved in grant projects which cover such fields as agriculture, education, health care, water supply, sports facilities, and other things.  As of now, Japan’s grants to Azerbaijan have reached 730 million US dollars. 
In March 2006, as I have already mentioned, President Ilham Aliyev and his spouse visited Japan and met with Emperor Akihito, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Minister of Foreign Affairs (and the present Prime Minister) Taro Aso.  The two sides issued a joint statement and signed an agreement on technical cooperation, and the Japan-Azerbaijan Joint Economic Committee restarted its activity as a result of this Presidential visit.  In February 2008, the fifth meeting of that group took place in Tokyo.

Our two countries have also had meetings at a senior level within the framework of GUAM+Japan summit held in Baku in June 2007 and in Batumi in July 2008.
 In the future, I would like to continue to promote our relations not only in political and economic fields but also in other spheres such as culture, sports, tourism and environment.    

AIW: What are the main directions of cooperation between Japan and Azerbaijan? 
Amb. Oki: As I have mentioned, the main areas of cooperation between Japan and Azerbaijan are in the fields of politics and economic cooperation, while we also have grant programs in agriculture, education and health.  Such programs primarily aim at improving life standards of local people, which is why most of them have been implemented in rural areas of Azerbaijan.  In the future, I hope we can cooperate more actively in environment and water supply projects.  And we are eager to broaden the scope of relations in culture, sports, and tourism, etc.    

AIW: Japan has always expressed its full support for Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.  Why then did it not vote in favor of the UN General Assembly Resolution 10693, passed in March 2008? 

Amb. Oki: Japan considers that the final settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is essential for the peace and stability in the Caucasus region and that it is important to settle the conflict in a peaceful way based on a principle of the territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan within the internationally recognized borders.  The Government of Japan supports the mediation efforts by the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, but at the time of the vote, sufficient and substantial consultations between the Co-Chairs and Azerbaijan about the resolution had not taken place, and the Co-Chair countries all voted against the resolution.  Therefore, the government of Japan abstained from voting.     

AIW: What is the state of cooperation between Japan and GUAM within the “GUAM+Japan” format?  Which are the main areas of cooperation?  How does Japan view the future evolution of GUAM and the further evolution of Japan-GUAM cooperation?  Are there any plans towards deepening this cooperation? 

Amb. Oki: The GUAM+Japan dialogues at high levels have taken place four times during the last 18 months, following the first meeting in June 2007.  In addition, in Tokyo, the periodic meetings take place between the Director-General of the European Affairs Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan and the Ambassadors of GUAM countries.  It is expected that a National Coordinators meeting will be held in Tokyo early 2009.  

During the first GUAM-Japan meeting, energy saving, environment protection, as well as investment and trade were agreed as the basis for cooperation at the initial stage.  A workshop on energy saving technologies was held in Tokyo in September 2007.  In February 2009, we plan a joint workshop on investment and trade, a meeting that will provide a good opportunity to showcase the attractiveness of the GUAM countries in Japanese business circles.  As GUAM develops, we believe that it is promoting values like democracy, human rights, market economy and rule of law, and through that contributes to the peace and stability in the region.  We look forward to more concrete steps in cooperation among the GUAM members, and we will keep working to further deepen our relationship with GUAM both through mutual visits and technical cooperation.       

AIW: What is the essence of Japan’s initiative aimed at creating an “Arc of Freedom and Prosperity?”  Are there any specific actions currently carried out or planned under the initiative?   

Amb. Oki: Japan’s “arc of freedom and prosperity” initiative is intended to assist efforts at developing freedom, democracy, market economy, rule of law and respect for human rights in the countries in north-eastern Asia, the Central Asia, the Caucasus region including Azerbaijan, Turkey, central and eastern Europe and Baltic countries.  The promotion of those values in those courtiers will contribute to the peace and security of the Euro-Asian region. 

It is under this initiative that Japan has launched the dialogue with GUAM within the “GUAM-Japan” framework.   

AIW: What in your view ought to be the next steps in relations between Azerbaijan and Japan? 

Amb. Oki: We are doing many things, but I must admit that the presence of Japanese private companies in Azerbaijan is limited.  Azerbaijan has a big potential for development.  We hope that Azerbaijan will continue its efforts to improve the investment environment and to ensure a competitive business climate in order to attract more foreign investors.  At the same time, when there are more people-to-people contacts, the friendship between the two nations will become even more solid.  For that purpose, we should have more cooperation in culture, sports, tourism, and other similar areas.
AIW: Given your own experience, what advice would you give young Azerbaijanis beginning their careers in diplomacy?   

Amb. Oki: One of the major duties of a diplomat is to strengthen relations between two countries.  That requires forming solid human relationships, and for that, there must be trust.  That requires honesty, and diplomats must always be honest and trustworthy.  

It also requires a deep understanding of the country you are posted in.  For that, diplomats must study the culture, traditions, history, and preferably the language of that country.  In my career, I have noticed that if you speak someone’s language, he or she will open his/her heart to you more fully.

My third piece of advice is to respect diversity.  Today, there are so many conflicts arising from ethnic and religious differences.  Diversity enriches our life, gives us pleasure and is a source of strength.  And most importantly, it is wrong to think one group is superior to another.