MRS. HITOMI SATO, Senior Regional Coordinator, Southwest Asia Division of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, spoke to KEHAB POUDEL on diplomatic relations between Japan and Nepal via zoom. Excerpts of the interview
Nepal and Japan established diplomatic relations over 60 years ago, how do you see Nepal-Japan relations at present?
Since 1956 when Japan and Nepal established diplomatic relations, both countries have maintained traditionally cordial relations through people-to-people exchange of all levels and cultural exchanges.
Japan has been contributing to Nepal’s development. Japan has extended its assistance in various fields such as agriculture, health and medical services, transportation, electricity, democratization, and peacebuilding, and so on. Recently, to assist Nepal’s efforts to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, Japan also extended assistance for providing medical supplies and capacity building through international organizations, and grant aid for providing healthcare and medical equipment and for strengthening healthcare and medical systems in Nepal.
As both Japan and Nepal are natural disaster-prone countries, two countries have mutually assisted when one country faces a natural disaster. When Japan was hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, Nepal sent relief supplies such as blankets and Nepalese food, and donations. In 2015 when the great earthquake hit Nepal, Japan sent an emergency relief team and extended its assistance for the recovery and reconstruction of public infrastructure including houses and public schools under the concept of “Build Back Better”. Today, there are about 95,000 Nepal is living in Japan. Many of them are students or technical trainees who are studying the Japanese language, learning skills or techniques, and working. These days, in Japan we see growing interest in receiving human resources with specialized knowledge and skills from abroad.
There have been continued visits in political level between our two countries. In January 2019, then Foreign Minister Mr. Kono visited Nepal as the first Japanese foreign minister in 7 years. During the visit, FM Kono signed the exchange of notes regarding the amendment to the schedule to the Air Services Agreement between the two governments. In March of 2020, direct flight service between Kathmandu and Narita was resumed and the convenience of travel by air between our two countries has been greatly improved. Although we have been affected by coronavirus pandemic for the last year, we hope our bilateral exchanges in various areas will be improved in the coming years.
Nepal has been supporting various international fora, how do you expect Nepal for the UNSC reform?
We appreciate that Nepal has always extended its valuable support to Japan as a friendly nation in various international fora as well as support for our efforts for UNSC reform. We hope Nepal will continue supporting us in the UNSC reform process.
Nepal has been supporting Japan in various international (fora), how do you expect other support from Nepal to Japan?
We appreciate that Nepal has always extended its valuable support to Japan as a friendly nation in various international fora. Regarding “other support” from Nepal in your question, I would like to mention possible support to Japanese small and medium private companies. Most of the Japanese companies which wish to invest or expand their business in Nepal are small or medium-sized companies. Japanese companies are known for their world-class technology and the quality of the products. For those to be utilized, we hope a more investment-friendly environment is formed in Nepal, which also facilitates Nepal’s development.
At a time when the global and regional scenario is changing, how will Japan see South Asia particularly Nepal?
Japan promotes the realization of the vision “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” which aims to facilitate peace, stability, and prosperity of the region through establishing an international order based on the rule of law, freedom of navigation, and promotion of free trade.
Japan is strengthening bilateral cooperation and assistance with the countries in the regions concerned for peace and stability of the whole Indo-Pacific region. In this context, Japan also intends to promote its cooperation with the countries in South Asia.
Our support to the development and stability of Nepal leads to our contribution to the stability in the whole of South Asia which is politically and economically important. Therefore, Japan will promote its cooperation with Nepal from the vision of contributing to the stability and prosperity of the region.
Based on our over 60 years of relations, how Nepal and Japan move forward in the future?
As I mentioned earlier, Nepal is not only a friendly nation of Japan but also an important country for stability and prosperity in the region and international community. Japan will continue working closely with Nepal for stability and development in the region. Japan will keep supporting Nepal for economic and social development, and encourage Nepal’s efforts for graduating from LDC status and then achieving the status of a middle-income country. Between Japan and Nepal, not only exchanges or interactions at the government level but also among the peoples such as mountain climbers are active. In recent years, there is an increasing number of Nepalis who stay in Japan for a much longer time than before.
We hope more and more Nepalese people will come to Japan as technical trainees or specified skilled workers and then learn and bring back the Japanese skills and technologies, and experiences in Japan to Nepal to be utilized for the socio-economic development there.
At this moment, people-to-people exchange stagnates due to the coronavirus pandemic, however, usually many Japanese tourists visit Nepal every year. Once the pandemic is over Japanese and Nepalese people will use the direct flights between Narita and Kathmandu and enjoy visits with each other, and people-to-people exchange will become more active so that our mutual understanding will be deepened.
For almost a decade, there are not high-level dignitaries visited Nepal, is there any possibility of a high-level visit in near future?
Looking back on the past few years, in January 2019, Foreign Minister Kono visited Nepal and in January last year (2020), Parliamentary Vice-Minister Suzuki visited Nepal. Our bilateral relations have been steadily strengthened through political level visits. I hope that, once the coronavirus pandemic is over and normal life comes back, both governments will resume the consideration of a high-level visit.