Almost at the end of 19th century in 1899, Japanese Buddhist Monk Ekai Kawaguchi came to Nepal on his way to Tibet. This would be not only his first among the four visits he made to Nepal, but the genesis of direct contact between the two nations of orient infused with rich cultural and civilizational heritage. During the following 117 years, the contact got more diversified and enriched, in benefit of both the countries. Nepali students, who happened to be the first batch of Nepali to study overseas, were the first Nepali nationals to land in Japan in 1902.
The diplomatic relations between the two countries were established on 01 September 1956. As Nepal had come out of the cocoon of isolationist foreign policy of Rana Era and was opening up to the world, Japan was the seventh country that Nepal established its diplomatic relations with. Since then, the relationship between the two countries has been defined by mutual trust, profound goodwill and understanding. Nepal established its Embassy in Tokyo in 1965 and the Embassy of Japan in Kathmandu was established in 1967.
This year marks the60th Anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic relations. In these sixty years of cordial relations, Nepal and Japan have worked closely for mutual benefits –at bilateral, regional as well as multilateral levels.
Various events and programmes, in Nepal as well in Japan, are being organized to commemorate the 60th Anniversary. H.E. Mr Nobuo Kishi, State Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan visited Nepal from 30 August to 01 September 2016 to participate in the special commemorative event being organized on 1st September 2016 in Kathmandu.
As the third largest economy of the world, Japan is one of the largest development partners for Nepal. The government and people of Nepal greatly value what it has been receiving as development assistance from Japan. Japan began its participation in Nepal’s economic development programme since 1954 –two years before the formal relations would be established. It started to provide grant and loan aid from 1968. Japan’s cooperation covers almost all the sectors and dimensions of Nepali economy –including agriculture, infrastructure development and human resources development. Since 1977, Japan has been providing cultural grant aid to Nepal to promote cultural, educational and research activities.
Japan has been assisting Nepal in the form of bilateral grant, bilateral loan, multilateral aid and technical assistance. The recent Japanese assistance to Nepal includes modernization of Tribhuwan International Airport, GongabuBuspark, B.P. Highway, BanepaSindhuli Road Construction, Improvement of Kathmandu-BhaktapurRoad, Melamchi Water Supply Project (Water Treatment Plant), Tanahau Hydropower Project, Gender Mainstreaming and Social Inclusion Project among many others.
Nepal and Japan have extended valuable assistance to each other in the time of distress caused by natural calamities. As the devastating earthquake struck Nepal on 25 April 2015, Japan immediately dispatched relief and rescue teams and provided emergency relief materials. The Japanese Government has agreed to provide an assistance of Nrs. 26.19 billion to assist Nepal on post-disaster reconstruction.
Japanese assistance has largely contributed to Nepal’s socio economic development. As Nepal is pursuing to graduate from status of LDCs to a developing country by 2022, assistance provided by Japan has enabling role to relax the economic hardship and vulnerabilities. Similarly, the bilateral aid should be mobilized by prioritizing the timely realization of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The continuity of Japanese assistance for Nepal’s reconstruction drive is much desirable.
Government of Japan has been providing scholarships to Nepali students, for university courses, since the early 1960s. It has launched Human Resource Development Scholarship (JDS) since 2015 targeting officers of Government of Nepal.From 1970 onwards, Japan has been providing technical cooperation by dispatching Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers. Similarly, JICA Partnership Programme (JPP) was introduced in Nepal in 2003, which has implemented various projects in partnership with different partner organisations.
The assistance of Japanese government in education sector, as well as the dispatch of Japanese experts, has largely aided to relax the bottleneck caused by dearth of skilled human resources in Nepal.
Our relations are not limited to the bilateral framework. Japan is an important observer to SAARC since 2007. Japan’s engagement with SAARC began in 1993 after the establishment of SAARC-Japan Special Fund. Similarly, Nepal and Japan have closely worked together in the United Nations and other multilateral forums. Both the countries attach high importance to the UN peacekeeping operations. Japan has been an important partner for the LDCs. It has been providing ODA through UN agencies and International Financial Institutions including the World Bank Group and the Asian Development Bank.
Given the limited trade volume between Nepal and Japan,and trade balance unfavorable to the former, an especial emphasis is needed to scale up the bilateral trade. Exports from Nepal, which include pashmina products, garments, woolen apparels, carpets, handicrafts, Nepali paper and paper products and likewise, accounted for 1,023 million Rupees in 2015. Similarly, Japanese export mainly comprising of high end automobiles and electronic goods was equivalent of Nrs. 4,956 million last year. Nepal’s trade deficit with Japan stood at Nrs. 3,993 million.
To accelerate Nepal’s economic development, it is imperative to increase the volume of bilateral trade and decrease Nepal’s trade deficit. Measures like more concessional business opportunities, relaxation of rule of origin, simplification of other procedures and standards, and trade capacity building are required to scale up bilateral trade. The private business sector needs be stimulated, a regular exchange of trade delegation needs to be encouraged and areas of comparative advantages be explored.
Japan remains one of the major investors in Nepal. A total investment amounting to Nrs. 2050 million, in over 215 projects, has helped to create 7946 jobs in Nepal. Several Nepal-Japan ventures related to hospitality industry, assembling industry, horticulture and construction sectors are operating in Nepal. A liberal policy regime, a rich resource base, bountiful water resources and abundant low cost labour makes the investment in Nepal profitable.Nepal’s location between two of the largest emerging markets, with easy access to market of more than 2.6 billion people, provides another compelling incentive to do business in Nepal.
As Nepal-Japan relations passes through 60 years of diplomatic relations, we need to give more emphasis on trade and investment.Needless to say, it is trade and investment, which will steer the trajectory of Nepal’s development.
Nepal-Japan relations is not merely confined to the interactions between two governments. People-to-people relations are harmonious. Almost 60,000 Nepalisnationals are living in Japan and Nepali community is the 6th largest foreign community in Japan. Similarly, Nepali students in significant number are pursuing their higher studies in Japan.
Nepal remains one of the attractive destinations to the Japanese tourists. Himalayas have lured a plethora of Japanese mountaineering expeditions since 1952. In 1956, first successful attempt in Mt. Manaslu was made by Japanese Alpinist Mr. Minoru Higeta.The 60th Anniversary that historic event was commemorated this year. Moreover, in the International Women’s Year of 1975, Ms. Junko Tabei from Japan reached the peak of Mt. Everest being the first woman to do so.
Lumbini –the birth place of Lord Gautam Buddha, is an important pilgrimage centre for Japanese. Sister relationship between Lumbini and Japanese city of Koyasan have been established.The rich cultural tapestry that endows Nepal and the overwhelming natural assets that adorn Nepal makes it a heavenly destination for Japanese tourists. Albeit the abundance of such enabling factors, the number of Japanese tourists is quite dismal. In 2001, almost 41,000 Japanese tourists visited Nepal. This number has disappointingly plunged down to a bleak figure of 9,267 in 2015. Nevertheless, the prospect for increase in tourist flows remains bright. As Nepali economy is struggling to recover from the earthquake disaster, it needs Japanese tourists more than ever before.
As Nepal-Japan relations reach 60, the two countries have cooperated in multitude of sectors. Japan has been an important development partner to Nepal. Political relations are cordial. Cultural and religious linkage has further cemented the bond that two countries and its people share. There is huge potential to enhance economic and commercial relations. The technological expertise and innovation of Japanese economy has much to offer to Nepal’s development pursuit. As the 60th Anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relationship with Japan is being commemorated, both the countries need tocontinue to tread upon the path of cordial relationsin order to make the cooperation between Nepal and Japan a successful illustration of rewarding partnership.
Bairagi is foreign secretary