"We In Japan See Nepal As A Beautiful Country"

Extending support for the all-round development of Nepal for the past 58 years, Japan has always remained a major development partner. In that context, Japanese Ambassador to Nepal MASASHI OGAWA spoke to NEW SPOTLIGHT on various issues on the current

Dec. 5, 2014, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol: 08 No. -12 December. 5- 2014 (Mansir 19, 2071)

Nepal and Japan have a long history of bilateral relations, how do you see Nepal Japan relations at present?

I am pleased with the ever-growing friendship and cooperation between Japan and Nepal.  It ranges widely, from the close ties to the exchanges of personnel both at government and private level.

Japan and Nepal have been enjoying unblemished friendly ties for over a century.  Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Nepal in 1956, the Government of Japan has been extending various types of cooperation to Nepal for its socio-economic development. I am very happy to say that the year 2016 will mark the diamond jubilee of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries.

Japan is one of the major countries supporting Nepal’s all round development.  What is the state of the bilateral relationship?

We in Japan see Nepal as a beautiful country with panoramic views ranging from the great snow-peaked Himalayas to the dense and green forest in the Terai.  Therefore, Nepal is greatly loved by the Japanese people for its natural beauty.

In addition, Nepal is held in high respect for being the birthplace of Lord Buddha. In turn, I believe the people of Nepal have respect for Japan’s post-war development history.  This respect is further deepened by the fact that while Japan emerged as a large economic power in Asia after WW-II, the country also preserved its traditional culture as can be seen in Kyoto and Nara.

Japan has always been very keen to actively provide as much assistance as possible to help Nepal in its promotion of social development towards building a vibrant nation.  And this desire to assist Nepal continues to date.

What are the major assistances from Japan to Nepal? And, if any specific,future plan?

Economic relations between the two countries is yet to be explored to its full potential, but it has been increasingly highlighted in recent years with a prospect of encouraging more Japanese investment in Nepal. Flanked by two of the world’s largest economies and blessed with abundant natural resources and a young population offering a huge pool of potential workers, Nepal has a lot to offer foreign investors.The number of Japanese investors who are interested in Nepal has been increasing for the last couple of years.  In order to lure more prospective investors from Japan, it is important to make the most out of Nepal’s potential by improving the investment environment.  For instance, an investment-friendly legal framework as well as infrastructures is essential

The Government of Japan started its support to Nepal with technical assistance by dispatching JICA volunteers in 1960.  A decade later, grant assistance for Food Aid (KR) and the Increase of Food Production (KR2) started. And recently, the Government of Japan has prioritized its Official Development Aid (ODA) for poverty reduction and peace-building through economic growth. Especially, I am proud to introduce our continuous support for the infrastructure sector, such as roads, hydropower and water supply. For example, we have supported the Sindhuli Road Project to connect Kathmandu and the Terai. This is going to complete next March. We have also supported the Kathmandu-Bhaktapur Road Project, the first road with international standards in Nepal; the Melamchi Water Supply Project, and the Kaligandaki A Hydropower Project (144MW) and Tanahu Hydropower Project (140MW).

And as much as we continue to place high value on the infrastructure sector, the social sector, such as education is also a priority. Our latest project to improve access and quality of education in targeted districts has just been formulated by integrating experience and lessons learnt from our past projects – and this contains both technical assistance and classroom construction.

In addition, promoting democratization and peace building are also a priority sector for Japanese cooperation, with several technical assistance projects to support Nepal promoting the democratization and peace process through its own efforts. As a close friend and development partner, we will consistently continue all possible assistance to strengthen the cordial friendship between Japan and Nepal.

Along with government to government relations, how do you see people to people relations between the two countries?

Although both our societies are enjoying a flow of communication and information from abroad through internet, television, etc, there is always room to further intensify mutual understanding.  Japan is doing this mainly through providing Nepali youths the opportunity to come to Japan and return with a wealth of knowledge and information that can then be utilized to help build a stronger Nepal.

We are doing this in two ways: - on the one hand we promote youth exchange whereby young Nepalis come to Japan to work in industry for two years.  In this way they learn not only about how the country works, but also about Japanese ways of life and work ethics.  The other way we provide opportunities for Nepali youths is through study in Japan, either in universities or in specialized training centers.  As of May 2013, there were 3,188 Nepali students studying in Japan, making Nepal the fourth largest country sending its students to Japan.  Similarly there were 2,619 students, in 2013, studying Japanese language, the third largest number of foreign students of Japanese language in Japan.

This year, the Government of Japan invited as many as 83 Nepali youths (university students, high school students and the students of Japanese language) to Japan to participate in short-term invitation programs under the Japan East-Asia Network of Exchange of Students and Youths (JENESYS-2) program.

The Japanese Embassy provides potential students with information on daily life in Japan and university entrance procedures as well as providing and facilitating scholarships. After their studies in Japan, Nepali students return to Nepal with a good education, good life skills and good work ethic, ready to help build a stronger nation.

Modernization of agriculture is key to the overall development of Nepal. How can Nepal learn from Japan`s agriculture development?

Japan has been suffering from a scarcity of arable land; only 20% of Japan’s land is suitable for cultivation. In order to tackle this problem, the agricultural sector in Japan has made an effort to maximize crops. Accepting modern technologies is one thing: Japanese agriculture captured American and European technologies, such as tractors and fertilizers. However, since the situation in Japan is not the same as that in Western countries (weather, width of arable land, etc.), Japanese farmers not only introduced those technologies, but also adapted them to the Japanese agricultural situation.

Although farmers’ efforts have been enormous, the Japanese Government also played an important role. Actually, the Government’s policies and financial support contributed to the development of agriculture. There are several policies:- to promote the development in irrigation and cultivation of land; to introduce modern technologies such as large-scale machines and vinyl greenhouse; to control the distribution and the price of agricultural crops, and so on. The initiatives taken by the Japanese Government accelerated the agricultural development.

Japan has improved agriculture enormously by modernizing agriculture. Nepal can learn different technologies that can enhance productivity. Furthermore, the commercialization of agro products and development of agriculture markets are also important things Nepal can learn from Japan.

I do understand that Nepal is an agricultural country, where 35% of GDP comes from the agricultural sector, and more than 70% of the population are engaged in agriculture. However, the growth in the agricultural sector in Nepal seems relatively low. With only 28% of land being arable in Nepal, your country also needs to introduce new technology, and to learn how to use them in the proper way. There must be many ways to accelerate the modernization of agriculture in Nepal.

It is reported that numbers of Japanese visitors has declined recently. What does Nepal needs to improve the number of Japanese visitors?

First of all, I’d like to inform you that the number of actual Japanese tourists has not been declining, but it is the percentage of Japanese tourists that has been declining when compared to the number of tourists from India and China, which has been increasing tremendously recently. Even so, I do hope that more and more Japanese tourists visit Nepal, since I do love your country. However, it is also true that there are several problems to be solved in order to attract more Japanese tourists.

First, I noticed the lack of infrastructure. For example, upgrading the Tribhuvan International Airport is important: the capacity of the airport should be developed. Clean sanitary conditions and a good public toilet system might seem a tiny area to improve, but I’m aware that those tiny changes and improvements can easily attract Japanese tourists. Safety is also important. An efficient and effective information system will easily increase the safety of tourists. The number of casualties, as seen in the Annapurna blizzard which occurred recently, can be lowered as those systems are developed.

Second, having talked with many Japanese people, I found that many people in Japan are not fully aware of the natural beauty and rich cultural heritage in Nepal. So promotional bodies, such as the Nepal Tourism Board, should take additional initiatives for promotion activities in Japan in order to make people aware of Nepal.

Moreover, Nepal should not only focus on the number of tourists, but also look at ways to boost the spending of tourists and increase the length of their stay. As some data shows, the average daily spending per tourist declined in 2013 to USD 42.8  from USD 73 in 2008. Having the highest mountain in the world, splendid views of the Himalayas, a rich cultural heritage and friendly people, Nepal has a lot to offer. Therefore, it should use its assets, while improving its standards of service and facilities to promote itself as a holiday destination for wealthy tourists, who are willing to pay for the privilege.

I’m very glad to see, however, that the political situation has been improving, which is also an important factor for raising the number of tourists.

How do you view ongoing political development of Nepal?

I would like to say that promulgation of the constitution is very important because a constitution is the basis of a country. I wish for the promulgation of the new constitution within the stipulated time. In addition, I would like to say that the Japanese Government will continuously support democratization in your country.

Regarding the constitution writing process, it is Nepal's internal matter, so I would like to refrain from making comments as an Ambassador. All I can do is to wish for the promulgation of the new constitution on time.

However, in my personal opinion, I am very optimistic that, as long as the leaders are continuously meeting and talking to each other, sooner or later the constitution will be promulgated. It may consume time but I am confident that Nepal will get its new constitution soon and will take a leap towards democratization and prosperitybecause, as mentioned above, a constitution is the base of any country.

There is no doubt that promulgation of the constitution will also improve the law and security of Nepal, which will pave the way for foreign investment.  I think foreign investment is essential for Nepal for its economic development. In this context also, I wish that the new constitution will be promulgated soon.

Is prolonged political transition in Nepal creating any problems for the implementation of development activities in Nepal?

The Government of Japan is currently implementing 43 projects under three pillars which are:  poverty alleviation; peace building and steady transition to democracy, and social infrastructure and institutions for economic growth, through JICA, multilateral development agencies, and NGOs in Nepal. As far as the implementation of these projects is concerned, the present political situation in Nepal creates few problems. The only problem we face is frequent changes in the senior government officers, who are counterparts of our projects.

However, for the private sector including Japanese companies, the present political situation, especially the absence of a constitution, makes them really cautious about their investment in Nepal. The political situation is getting better since the 2nd Constituent Assembly Election last November and now the number of Japanese companies who are interested in investing in Nepal is increasing. As mentioned above, I’m sure the development activities in Nepal by the private sector will be activated significantly, if the new constitution is promulgated as planned.

Furthermore, after Nepal completes the democratization process by promulgating a new constitution, I believe the Government of Japan can give more support to the next goal of the Government of Nepal’s socio-economic development.

Recently a high level JICA’s delegation visited Nepal. How do you look at it?

The delegation lead by Mr. Kuroyanagi, Vice President of JICA visited Nepal from 10 to 12 November. The purpose of this visit was to understand and to be updated on the current situation of Nepal by observing projects under implementation and having a meeting with dignitaries of the Government of Nepal. Through his visit, I think he learnt a lot about the current status and issues of the implementation of economic cooperation in Nepal and the needs of the Government of Nepal for future cooperation after the promulgation of new constitution.

The Japanese Embassy has also supporting Nepal’s development through NGOs. How do you see the projects implemented by them?

The Government of Japan has been supporting Japanese and local NGOs through the scheme of grant assistant for Japanese NGO projects and grass-root human security projects for local NGOs. These projects have small budgets compared to the projects through JICA, but are important as these schemes pick up the needs  of the grass-root level.

For example, the Government of Japan has been supporting the construction of the Sindhuli Road (B.P Highway) for almost 20 years. This road is not only the highway which is responsible for national logistics but also is the foundation for a better life for the people living in the roadside area, for, i.e market access for their products, medical access etc. In parallel with the road construction, we supported the construction of a health post at Khurkhot through the grass-root human security project scheme. This project is not only for the improvement of the situation within the local VDC, but also for the neighboring VDCs, as it improves accessibility to the health post by the opening of the  road. Additionally, we support a project for environment-friendly and high value agriculture in Nepalthok through a Japanese NGO. Since market access for agricultural products has been ensured by the Sindhuli Road, farmers’ products have brought much more cash income to the local farming families’..

These projects have been adopted through strict selection by the Government of Japan in terms of needs and feasibility. The Embassy of Japan monitors projects during implementation, upon completion, and two years after completion to ensure the success and sustainability of projects.

As Nepal has been looking for foreign direct investment in Nepal, particularly in the power sector, what is the possibility of Japanese private sector coming to Nepal?

I understand and have heard often that Nepal has been looking for investment in the power sector. Actually, Japan has been extending ODA to Nepal in the energy sector, for instance, Kulekhani and Kaligandaki. Kulekhani I and II are the only storage-type plants which are playing a very important role in energy generation, especially during the dry season. Kaligandaki A is the biggest hydropower plant in operation in Nepal.

Japanese private sectors are also interested in investing in the energy sector in Nepal.  However, potential investors often give up since they encounter problems. In order to attract more investment, I strongly believe that the regulatory framework for both foreign investment and the hydropower sector must be shifted to one which is investor-friendly. For example, the tendency that companies hold licenses in the hydropower sector for many years without doing anything should be discouraged. In that way,  I’m confident that the Power Trade Agreement (PTA), which has just been reached between Nepal and India, will have a positive impact.

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