Shigeki Sumi: “You don’t need to worry about the unity of G7 on issue of Ukraine”

16 September 2018, 12:26

Your Excellency Mr. Sumi, in 2017, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) office opened in Kyiv. What exactly is it focusing on in Ukraine?


– In the end of last year, the JICA has opened its office in Ukraine for the first time. They are focused on several projects. For most now, the Japan and Ukraine have beencarrying outbig projects such as the Bortnychi Sewage Treatment Plant Modernization Project. That is a very big project, which would cost $1.1 billion. So surely in order to execute such big project we need office here to look after. 

Japan has been implementinga lot of technical assistances. It means to develop Ukraine’s capabilities in many fields, such as Ukrainian Public broadcasting training, which JICA is conducting now. They are working on increasing of quality, particularly in two areas. First is the educational program, because in Japan NHK has a wonderful program for educational purposes. So the JICA send experts to Ukraine for several times, it’s last for about one month here each time. They give training on how to make good educational programs. And in the case of the emergency you have to have a good network. For example, in case of Japan, when the earthquake happens or heavy rain, like recently cause a lot casualties and NHK plays a big role to tell the people what they should do, whether they should stay at home or need to evacuate. We call this emergency broadcasting. It will cover all territory of Ukraine. Also the JICA gives the technical assistance for personnel. So I hope that would really upgrade the quality of the public broadcasting in Ukraine. 

There are many other programs, which JICA is conducting. In the last two-three years, so called democratization project in which JICA experts came to Ukraine to train how to increase transparency. The same time the JICA invites Ukrainian politicians to Japan. As you know, the wonderful fruits of this training are the introducing of government financing lawfor the political parties’ activities, which was made by Verkhovna Rada. It is very similar to Japanese system. That means that as a party or politician you can make a campaign no matter where are you coming from, a poor family or rich – you still have a chance. Both for the Embassy of Japan and for the Ukrainian government it’s necessary to have JICA office here in order to implement those numerous projects.


As we discussed before, major part of Japan’s low-interest lending and financial assistance to Ukraine accounts for the project to modernize Bortnychi Sewage Treatment Plant – preparation for the first stage is being finalized now in Kyiv. Are there any plans for more similar projects across Ukraine, or will this depends on the success of this one?


– First of all the Japanese assistance, particularly the loan projects, has a big advantage, because the JICA conduct the projects in the combination of the financial aspect. That means it is not separated. For example, when you conduct such big project, then the Ukrainian government needs a loanand has to tender for the projects. Butin many cases it is separated, companies are ready to build something, but it’s quite another story, who will give money for that. In case of JICA it is combined, so Ukrainian government can discuss in one project the estimates of a cost and who will give the finances. Japanese loan has several advantages: it is long-term, it has a long grace period and the interest is low. So it’s much effective to use JICA assistance rather than getting money on commercial bases. The Bortnychi project is underway and it’s doing very well. Hopefully, very soon there will be a public tender, which makes a decision on which company will actually do this. And sometime next year the real construction and renovation work will start.

What we are discussing doesn’t stop there. We already have talks about possible project for a bridge in Mykolayv. Mykolayv is a big hub for Southern Ukraine, so if there is a new bridge, which crosses the river,will enhance so much the capacity of the port. And the waste management is also very important. In the past Ukrainian people thought, “We have waste areas, where we can just dump it”. But you can’t continue on that for many reasons. Nowadays the environmental aspects are important. JICAis discussing now, what is a best way for Ukraine to deal with the waste. So if that could lead to another project, which would be another great one.


How much interest is there for Ukraine as business environment, exporter and a market for products in Japan? Have you seen any growth of Japanese business presence in Ukraine in the past years?


– Fortunately, now the Japanese business is aware of business opportunities in Ukraine and that is good news. I always tell business people, both from Ukraine and from Japan, that you have several advantages. For mostly is a level of education, it is very high in Ukraine, because everybody can read and write. And also the wages are relatively low as for Europe. Thirdly, because of Free trade agreement between EU and Ukraine, so you can produce something here and export to EU market without having any tariffs. So these are few advantages the Ukraine really has. Based upon these advantages in a past few years new business, investment came to Ukraine. Yazaki company, which makeswiring devices for cars and we are calling it wire-harness, is here in your country. Since Maidan on top of Yazaki, Fujikura, another automobile parts company, which also make wires-harness, has started a big business, a factory here. And also the Sumitomo Electric came here few years ago. Although Ukraine is very well known in Japan as an agricultural country. One company, called Thirdwave Corporation, started here an agricultural business by getting land in lease. Now they produce many agricultural products like sunflower seeds. What the Japanese companies are really paying attention is IT-business. Because in Japan we have a great demand for IT-experts and Ukraine is very advanced in this area. The problem is a language. Because the Japanese side want at least the Ukrainians, who speaks very good English. Of course, it remains to be seen, but we have a really good future in this area. On top of that trade is increasing, especially the sales of Japanese cars. After Maidan it has dropped sharply, but now it is coming back. And this is a sign of recovery of Ukrainian economy. We see that Japanese cars like Nissan, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Honda are very popular in Ukraine. Among other European countries the share of Japanese cars is high, above the 30%. 

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2017 was the year of Japan in Ukraine. One of its landmark projects was the Imaginary Travelerexhibition at Art Arsenal in Kyiv. How could Ukraine make itself more visible to Japanese society – what are your tips?


– Fortunately, the Ukrainian people already have very good image on Japan. And recent exhibition in Arsenal, “The Imaginary Traveler: Japan" attracted a huge number of visitors. For Ukrainians Japan is a projection of very modern with IT and automotive business, but also keeping the good old traditions, such as judo, karate, tea ceremony. From their part, the Ukrainians need a little bit efforts to enhance their image in Japan. They are already known among Japanese people. It is a bread basket of Europe. But Ukraine became independent state only in 1991, so still Japanese people are confused Ukraine with the Soviet time. There are many things, which are actually Ukrainian, but they think this is a Russian product. For example, in the field of cooking if you ask people from whom country is borsch originated, the half of Japanese would say that it is Russia. Even the religious means. We know about Kyiv Rus, which accepted Orthodoxy and was baptized. Only after it goes to Russia and Moscow. However, many people think that this is a Russian Orthodox and it has started in Moscow rather than Kyiv. So you need some additional efforts, spend a little more on promotion to let Japanese people know your history better. But not only history. Also some modern issues like opera or ballet. Kyiv Ballet and Opera come to Japan almost every year. This year Kyiv Ballet has come even two times. The standard and quality of Kyiv Opera and Ballet are the same as Bolshoy Theatre and Mariinskiy. But unfortunately, Russians are very well known in Japan, and Ukraine has lack of promotion. The same is for businesses. I am always telling your leaders, that to raise a good image of Ukrainian people in Japan is very important. Making Japanese people realize the importance of Ukraine is needed.


At the latest G7 summit, Donald Trump made remarks on the need to bring Russia back to the club. This position is supported by Italy’s new government. How do you expect this development to affect the position of G7 on Russia’s return to the club and sanctions against Russia for its illegal actions in Ukraine?


– First of all, anydecisions of G7 are made by consensus. And there is no consensus to bringing Russia back to G7. I do not think there is any chance for Russiaso far. Of course the position of Japanese government is to engage with Russia, it is important not just to isolate Russia, but also talk for the settlement of the issue of Ukraine. And I don’t think this could affect thepositionof G7on Ukrainian issue. If you look at the communique, it is clear.Though Mr. Trump said that US could withdrawit, what he said wasabout economic area. And on Ukrainian issue the position of US is the same that reflected in a statement, that Crimea’s annexation is illegal and G7 never accept it. And also the importance of the Minsk agreements remains unchanged as Russia should stop military and economic assistance to the rebels in eastern Ukraine. I don’t think there is any change among G7to this area. On top of that, we have in Ukraine the G7 Ambassadors' Support Group. This group is very active at working in close harmony. With other Ambassadors, we meet sometimes twice a week. We discuss almostall agendas regarding the reforms. I think we are very united; you don’t need to worry about the unity of G7 on issue of Ukraine.


After the election of Donald Trump US-Japan relations started at a high note. Now, we see growing differences between the US and Japan on trade issues. This seems to intensify Japan-China economic interaction and turn Japan into a regional free-trade champion. How do you expect these developments to affect Japan-US relations overall? Do you expect them to impact Japan-US security alliance?


– Since President Trump came to office our relations are very good. Japanese Prime minister Abe has met him personally already seven times and has numerous phone conversations. There is a very close sort of communication established between our leaders. Of course, there is a discussion on issue of trade, because some people say that why Japan is keep to exporting so many products to US rather to importing. But you should look also at investment. The United States have numerous Japanese companies, numerous factories. You should look on the economy overall. Japanese contribution into US economy is enormous. So I’m not very much worried about tis trade issue. 

And with regard to China, for Japan it’s favorable situation that China will become economically more prosperous. And that is a very good signal to the world. But, of course, what we are saying is that China needsto make it business inamore transparent manner. And then Japan is working on the free trade agreement for Asia-Pacific regionand also a FTA with China and South Korea. But even in that case US-Japanese alliance is a key factor, because that brings stability to the region. Like in case of North Korea, it’s very important for Japan to keep a strong Alliance with the US.

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Just recently, there were active discussions of Prime Minister Abe’s intentions to change Japan’s post-war Constitution to abolish the constitutional ban on Japan having a standing military. In the current security environment of growing security risks and increasingly uncertain security alliances, is the appetite for that change growing in Japan – in society and political establishment?

– The Japanese Constitution adopted in 1946, so it’s long time ago. Surely, the world’s situation has changed since then. That’s why Mr. Abe made a proposal; it’s a high time to renew at Japanese Constitution. Here is no time or deadline. And in the area of security and what we call Article 9,we have already the self-defense force and Mr. Abe still thinks that there is a need to have more discussions to what extend the Japanese self-defense force can do.If we say that self-defense force can do the work only for self-defense purpose, we need a clearance what that means. If EastAsia, where Japan is located, becomes unstabilized due to the development of missiles by North Korea, how can we deal with this issue; whether this present Constitution is good enough or not. Mr. Abe suggested discussing actively the issue of Constitution, because the government is responsible for providing safety and security to the peopleof Japanand the situation in Asia is not the same asit was60-70 years ago. Still we don’t know whether we would change it, but hissuggestion make the discussions not taboo anymore,and the issue needsto be discussed among the people. And we will see whether we will have a consensus to change the Constitution or not. Japanese people do recognizethe importance, at least to discuss this issue. 



Shigeki Sumi was born in 1953. In 1977 he graduated from Hitotsubashi University, Faculty of Commerce and Management and, in 1980, from Oxford University, St Catherine’s College. In 1977 he entered Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. From 1989 to 1993 – First Secretary, Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations. In 1993–1996 he worked at Foreign Policy Bureau. From 1997 to 2000 – Counselor, Permanent Mission of Japan to the International Organizations in Geneva. From 2000 to 2003 he worked at Embassy of Japan in Thailand. From 2005 to 2008 – Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Japan to the International Organizations in Vienna. From 2008 to 2011 – Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations. From 2011 to 2014 – Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Bahrain. From September 2014 – Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Ukraine. The author of several research works.

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