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27 April, 2021  ▪  Спілкувався: Yuriy Lapayev

Takashi Kurai: "The matter of Crimea is not only of local nature, not only of Ukraine alone, but a matter of regional or even global security"

The Ukrainian Week met with Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to Ukraine Takashi KURAI to discuss the cooperation between our countries, areas for further economic development and the importance of the Crimean matter

What is current Japanese position toward Ukraine? Why does Japan continue its support for our country, including the issues of Crimea and Donbas? Can you share the key principles of Japanese diplomacy?

 

There is a huge geographical distance between Japan and Ukraine. Yet Ukraine is located at a far distance from Japan, our countries share the same interests, and this is where a very important momentum is for cooperatione. Our principle for diplomacy and our cooperation with Ukraine is that we definitely support the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of your country. As expressed in the recent G7 foreign ministers statement, we definitely support your position on the “annexation” of Crimea. Why? Because this is a violation of the international norm,and in that sense this is something any country should follow. This is not a matter of locality – this is a matter of global interest to keep the international norm, which should not be violated by any country. 

Secondly, we also support your strategic direction towards the European integration and Euro Atlantic Alliance. We, of course, are not the member of the European Union nor the member of NATO, but we definitely support your aspirations. 

Thirdly, we support structural reforms, which you have been conducting here in Ukraine. Not in all, but in many cases, measures needed to be taken in the context of your reform are in line with your efforts for the integration into the European Union. This is why we have been supporting Ukraine since the very beginning of the independence, particularly after 2014, when you made a very important decision to take a strategic direction towards the West. For all these reasons, we support Ukraine and will continue to support. 

 

What are the main bilateral projects that Japan is currently developing in Ukraine?

Regarding the economic development assistance of Japan, since the very beginning of independence of Ukraine, the total amount reaches $3,1 bln. Since 2014, we have even accelerated our support to Ukraine - more than a half of the whole amount of our support have been done since that year. We have various areas of support of Ukraine. The first is the infrastructural building. For example, the newest terminal of the Boryspil airport was built in accordance with our assistance, which we were very much pleased to do. And what we are preparing for now is a rehabilitation of the sewage system of the Bortnichy aeration station. We hope that this will successfully be done soon. And the third infrastructural project would bea construction of a bridge in Mykolaiv. The city of Mykolaiv is very congested, holding an important position in the East-West transportation. What we are trying to do is to build a bridge to be used as a bypass, which could reduce the traffic  in the city centre and help drivers go to the other side of the river much more easily. This project is now under preparation by our two countries.

Those are large-scale projects, but our support for Ukraine also includes some smaller assistance. We call it “grassroots support”. Since 2002, we have been conducting roughly 10 cases per year under this framework, which have been done for a relatively small amount of money. We provide medical equipment to hospitals and some basic needs for education for children (like books, tables or chairs) as well as for small communities. Those are implemented at a smaller cost but play a very important role for the local to enhance their living standards. This is the second part of our assistance.

The third one is a support for Eastern part of Ukraine, namely for Donbass. This we have initiated in 2014, and includes our support to military hospitals and those in support of the lives of the people there. I have visited there twice, and was able to actually take a look at the construction work of the damaged houses for the people over there. I was very much pleased to see how our support hashelped them, and we will continue this support. Unfortunately, after the breakout of COVID-19, I have been unable to visit the area, but I would like to re-visit there as soon as possible. 

Let me also talk about the immediate assistance to the people, who are suffering from the coronavirus pandemic. We have provided some medical equipment. Very recently, we did it for the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine. A very high quality MRI, which gives doctors essential data to diagnose disease of patients and contributes to the quick and accurate medical treatment, is given. This, of course, is to be used not only for personnel of the border guard, but also for the ordinary people as well. 

On the top of such economic assistance, we also provide support for further development of the democratic system of the society. For instance, we have been supporting the Public Broadcasting Company of Ukraine (PBC). We do believe that an independent public broadcasting system is one of the most important elements for democracy of any country, not only here. We have been supporting PBCfor the last 3-4 years and are ready to continue to do this. 

Another unique support is that we send our personnel to the OSCE SMM here. There was a kind of gap over the year, but earlier this year we have resumed sending personnel to the office of SMM again. We are very much pleased to do this. 

RELATED ARTICLE: Yuichi Hosoya: “Both Ukraine and Japan need to strength our own national defence capabilities and we have to keep the cooperation in defending the rule-based international order”

Where does Ukraine have the potential to strengthen economic cooperation with Japan? Which sectors are already showing the best results?

While there are series of development assistance, there is much more room to be done on a commercial basis. Our bilateral trade in 2020 is something like $1,3 bln, which is very small. And the direct investment from Japan to Ukraine is around $140-150 mln. - far less than that for the development assistance. We believe that there should be more room for both of us to do. Now we have started negotiations with Ukraine for a revision of the taxation treaty. Our bilateral treaty on taxation has never been amended since the Soviet time. It was very strange to me why we didn’t change it. There are several things to be revised, particularly on tax regulations in order to facilitate further investment between us. We would like to create even more favourable environmentsfor business between our two countries. 

 

What should Ukrainian entrepreneurs keep in mind, when they plan to enter the Japanese market (like special features of business culture, requirements of standards, etc.)? If you have this information - what are the most common mistakes, which they need to avoid?

Ukrainian business is welcome to the Japanese market. The attractiveness of the Japanese market is its huge domestic demand as well as very well prepared public infrastructure, high level of education and a very safe and stable society. Those are very good conditions for foreign investors to Japan.

What could be a typical misunderstanding about Japan? - The market in Japan is “closed”. I don’t know why and how, but strangely this impression has been spread out among the people. However, if you check the actual data on the tariffs, for instance, you could see that Japan is one of the most open markets in the world. For instance, talking about agricultural products, there are a couple of very specific products, tariffs of which are set high. But if you look at the average tariff for agricultural products of Japan, it is around 11%, whereas that of the EU is around 20%. The tariff for cars is 0% in Japan. In fact, this is not a recent phenomenon: it has been 0% for over 40 years. In the United States – 2,5% , EU – 10%. The impression that the Japanese market is “closed” is not based on the very facts of trade. 

Also, the self-sufficiency rate for food of Japan is around 40%, which means we import 60% of food products from outside. It might be even necessary for the figure to be improved from the national security point of view. In Australia and Canada it is more than 200%. In the cases of the United States, it is more than 100%: Germany, 90%. So it is very strange to see all these kinds of rumours, saying that the Japan’s market is “closed”. 

What I would like to ask for Ukrainian business people, who are considering to be involved more with the Japanese market, is that they should not believe that the Government fully controls the business in Japan. I might be wrong, but my impression is that some of the Ukrainian business people think that the government decides something first, and then business people follow. But that is not the case in Japan, and this kind of approach does not effectively work there. This, I believe, is more or less the same in other countries. In Japan, Ukraine, European countries, the US, and all democratic countries, the Government’s role is to create favourable conditions and environment for the business circle, not to control it. The Government cannot forcibly let business people to be involved with some other market. 

Another thing which had better been kept in mind is that you should not take it for granted that your goods are to be accepted in other market if only the goods are highly qualified, or the tariffs are low. For instance, Japanese cars are one of the popular ones in the world. But that did not happen overnight, or without any efforts by Japanese manufacturers and business people for their products to be accepted by consumers. What is important is not only the goods themselves or tariffs, but the efforts of the business people to meet the demands of the market. Some could say that in Japan there is a barrier of language or of particular social system based on its own history, but these kinds of  “barriers” can be seen in any country of the world.

 

Japan is one of the world's biggest investors. What could be interesting for Japanese investors in Ukraine?

I very often meet and discuss with the Japanese business people who are stationed here or visit Ukraine from the headquarters, and I know at least two strengths of Ukraine that they talk about quite often. The first is its high level of technology. There are so many highly skilled engineers, especially in Information Technology. The second is the geographical advantage of Ukraine. Ukraine is closer to the huge European market as well as to the Middle East, and the infrastructure is there for the transport to deliver goods and service to these markets.  

We see a fair amount of potentiality for the further investment in the information technologies here. In October 2019, when President Mr Zelenskiy visited Japan, there was a summit meeting with our then Prime Minister Abe. At that time Japan offered to send a delegation to survey the situation regarding IT business here in order to find business opportunities for Japanese business circle in cooperation with Ukrainians. The delegation so far has not been able to visit Ukraine due tothe COVID-19 pandemic, however, we have already held several online seminars for Ukrainian people here where the experts of Japan took part in. If there is an opportunity for Japan to provide technical assistance for IT, we would like to do that. I believe that the IT-sector has a very good perspective for further investment.

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Keeping in mind the geographical location, are there any security and defense activities, that our countries could carry out together? What is already happening in this field? Is there any possible implications of Japanese concept of Free and Open Indo-Pacific for Ukraine? 

As I said earlier, there are two elements to point out – the distance and shared interests. Together they establish very important foundation for our cooperation in terms of security, which I firmly believe crucial. In light of our security cooperation, we have concluded and been working on a couple of bilateral agreements and meetings. In 2018, we started “Security dialogue”, where officials from both Foreign and Defence Ministries take part. In the following year, 2019, we started consultations on the export control, particularly in terms of security. In 2020, we had the second Cyber Consultation atthe experts’ level of both sides. Let me also highlight that the first Cyber Consultation was held in 2016, which was immediately after your government published a strategic paper on the cybersecurity. We are proud that Japan was the first among the G7 countries, which started such cyber consultations with Ukraine. We are now discussing where and how we can take the next step on all these consultations with Ukrainian side. Very recently, March this year, the Memorandum on cyber cooperation was signed between the National Coordination Centre for Cybersecurity of Ukraine (NCCC) and its counterpart of Japan. This, I believe, is a very important step for security cooperation between us. 

Now on Free and Open Indo-Pacific. This has a significant implication for Ukraine and also for our cooperation. Its basic concept is that the Indo-Pacific region (IPR) is a relevant platform for cooperation among not only the countries over there but with other countries beyond this region as well. The IPR is the area with a huge potential for even further development, with over 60% of the total GDP of the world and over 65% of the world population. What is more, this is a region of confluence of two continents and two oceans with very important maritime route for transportation. We do believe that this concept should be set as one of the cores of the further cooperation in order to keep our stability and the further development of the economy among the countries.

I do know that Ukraine, MFA in particular, is now formulating a new policy direction to focus more on Asia, under the name of “Pivot to Asia”. When Ukraine is trying to be more involved with Asia in terms of trade and investment, definitely the maritime routes is vital to it. The Black Sea, Suez canal, Arabian Sea, Malacca Strait – all those are very crucial for you, for us, and for all who are trading with the IPR. 

The significance of this region is emphasized not only by Japan, the US, ASEAN, and other countries, but also, especially for the last couple of years, by some of the European Union members as well. It should be noted that some of the European countries including Germany, France, the Netherlands and the UK have issued strategic paper regarding the IPR, in which this region is articulated as one of the most important areas to which special attention should be paid. So this is a matter not only of the Asian countries, ASEAN, China, and the US, but also of the European countries as well. This, I do believe, has an impact on the foreign policy direction of Ukraine as well.

 

Ukraine recently announced the launch of the Crimean Platform. Does Japan support this step? On your opinion, is it advisable? What practical steps are required to speed up the de-occupation of the peninsula?

I’m very pleased to read out the recent G7 foreign ministers’ statement, which I think is a very good one. It states: “We welcome in principle Ukraine’s initiative to establish an International Crimean Platform to consolidate the international community’s efforts on Crimea”. This articulates our position, and we are very happy to make this public. This statement is in accordance with the basic principles of our diplomacy, with the rule of law. International law should not be violated by any country. This is a global matter, not the local one.

Regarding the Platform itself, I would like to appreciate the efforts made by your government. We have been presented some ideas on the declaration or statement, which is planned to be issued during the Platform conference. In what way we could be more engaged with this Platform is now under consideration by our capital. If I may say my own idea, what is essential to this Platform is how to attract the international community’s attention as much as possible. In this regard, I think one of the relevant issues to keep in mind is that this matter of Crimea is not only of a local nature, not only of Ukraine alone, but a matter of a regional or even global security. I do believe that the core of this matter is security. And so if people around the world or in this region, in Europe, could have a better understanding that this is a matter of their own national security, I think, personally, the awareness of the countries, which would take part in that Platform, could be raised more.

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Can we expect a visa-free regime between our countries? 

In January 2018, we eased the visa regime between our two countries, and fortunately, this has made more and more people visiting Japan from Ukraine. But since the visa regime is very complicated, there are still many technical challenges we should take into account. What I can tell you right now is that we are well aware of the expectation of the Ukrainian people in order to facilitate more people to visit from both sides. We are in the process of considering what we could do next for the further easing of the visa regime. 

 

Biography:

Takashi Kurai was born in 1955. In 1981 entered Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 1984 worked in the Embassy of Japan in the USSR. 1989 – 1995 several positions in MFA. 1995 - Counsellor for political affairs of the Embassy of Japan in Russia. 1999 – 2008 – different managing positions in MFA. 2008-2010 Minister at the Permanent Mission of Japan to the International Organizations in Vienna. From 2010 to 2012 - Deputy Director General, Intelligence and Analysis Service at MFA. 2012-2014 - Minister and Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Japan in the Republic of Korea. 2014 – 2016 - Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary, Embassy of Japan in Russia, 2016 – 2019 - Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to Pakistan. Since January 23rd 2019 - Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to Ukraine.

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