INTERVIEW with OSAMU UNO, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan

Our support is for democracy and stability

Osamu UNO, 61, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, was in Nepal on a three-day official visit. Son of the late Sosuke UNO, former Prime Minister of Japan, Osamu was once the executive secretary to his father when he was Prime Minister of Japan.  A second time member of the House of Representatives from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of Japan, UNO, is also the director of the Committee on Environment and member of the Special Committee on Prevention of International Terrorism and Japan's Cooperation and Support for Humanitarian Assistance for Reconstruction in Iraq.

During his three-day busy schedule, he called on the leaders of main political parties and signed agreements with the government, among others, on improving the Kathmandu-Bhaktapur road which will be funded by Japan. Before his departure, UNO took out time, on Thursday evening, to speak with Puran P Bista and Kamal Raj Sigdel of The Kathmandu Post on issues concerning Nepal-Japan relations, economic cooperation, and its future policy on changed Nepali context. UNO, who is hopeful about the political development taking place in Nepal, says the future activities of the Maoists will decide whether Japan will continue its support to a Maoist-led government. 



Q: What is the purpose of your visit?

UNO: I have come here as a representative of the Japanese government to congratulate the government of Nepal. The first achievement of Nepal is that it has successfully held the Constituent Assembly elections. And the next one is that a new government is soon going to be formed.

Besides, the next important purpose of my visit is to convey a message that the Japanese support will continue even after the new government is formed.

Today (Friday) afternoon we had an agreement. The government of Japan is supporting Nepal to construct a four-lane road from Kathmandu to Bhaktapur. This would be the first gift of the government of Japan to Nepal after the formation of a new government.

In the first two days of my visit to Nepal, I have met many political leaders, and in each meeting, I have stressed only one thing that Nepal needs stability and a sustainable peace. I have heard that a new president and vice-president would be soon elected. I wish that to happen as early as possible and hope Nepal will soon establish a sustainable peace and stability. This is what I conveyed to Nepali leaders in my meetings.


Q: You have spoken of continuing support to Nepal. Does that mean Japan will continue its support even if the Maoists form the next government?

UNO: I believe the new government will be formed following due democratic processes and by the democratically elected CA representatives. Japan will accept the government which is formed democratically by the people's representatives elected through free and fair elections. I have been repeating this in all the meetings with the Nepali leaders that the constitution is such a thing which should be very democratic and even after the formation of new government we need to move ahead democratically. And all should make a collective effort toward that.


Q: This means you are satisfied with the Maoist performance. How do you assess the human rights records of the Maoists?

UNO: The problems associated with the Maoists are Nepal's domestic issues. Japan as an external force has no intention to interfere on that. In the future, I hope the Maoists change gradually and embrace democratic values.


Q: Does that mean if Japan is not convinced, or if the Maoists don't change, Japanese support to Nepal will be discontinued?

UNO: I cannot say that now without seeing what is going to happen in the days to come. But now, I am returning with a hope that the Maoists will change.


Q: Nepal-Japan relations have been very cordial and long one. Until recently both were kingdoms. And the bilateral relations at the level of royal families of both the countries were something very special. How do you assess Nepal's decision to go republic?

UNO: Until Nepal was a kingdom, Nepal-Japan relations were really strong. But after the 2001 royal massacre, a change is discernible on Nepali people's perception about the palace. In the past 5 or 6 years, Nepalis witnessed historic changes. In April 2008, the Nepali people themselves held the historic CA election, which was a big success. Nepal has been moving ahead democratically, and there are people's representatives, so we would like to respect the process.


Q: How will Japan support Nepal in the post-conflict days?

Uno: It is not that Japan could say it would support for this or that. After the formation of a new government based on what sorts of demand it makes, Japan will see and decide. The objective of Japan's international economic support is not just to continue it. Its objective is to make the reviving countries self-reliant. This should not be forgotten. For example, Japan's ODA is also directed toward that objective … toward how Nepal's economy can improve.

For instance, with the Japanese support the Kathmandu-Bhaktapur road will be upgraded to a four-lane highway from the current two-double road. This will help people transport products to Kathmandu easily. After the construction of the wider road, the people will not have to face any traffic jam; they could also save fuel and time. This will certainly help develop the economy and benefit the areas.

Q: Nepal and Japan are working on a deal to send industrial trainees to Japan. What progress has been made so far?

UNO: Nepal requested Japan to take in Nepalis as industrial trainees for vocational training in Japan. As one of the well-wishers of this country, Japan also accepted that. The objective is to help capacitate Nepalis who would return to Nepal after completing their vocational training in Japan. Japan has no policy to use these trainees as manpower there. This is also a kind of support to a developing country like Nepal.


Q: When will this start?

UNO: Today afternoon we heard that the FNCCI interviewed six women to send them as trainees to textile industries in Japan. So this has already started.


Q: Was there no such training in the past?

Uno: No, this one is the first of its kind.


Q: Will Japan be able to give trade preference to Nepal? If so, what sorts of items will Nepal export to Japan?

UNO: Japan has not thought about any quota for now. Neither has it decided which product to import from Nepal. You too might have heard about the campaign called "one village one product". But this is also misunderstood. People think that this "one village one product" project is to export products directly to Japan. That is not true. The objective of the project is to exchange products in local markets and help boost the local economy. There is a need for promoting this "one village one product" concept in Nepal at the beginning. Then only can we think of exporting the products in foreign courtiers. This is a suitable campaign for Nepal. So what we suggest is, Nepal should first promote the product in domestic market and then in the international market. That will be better. In the future if this goes on flourishing, we will think of even bigger projects similar to this but it depends also on Nepal and on how it presents itself to Japan.


Q: How can Nepal attract FDI from Japan? What type of policy Nepal should take to attract Japanese investors?

Uno: When it comes to trade relations, what is important is peace and stability. Without this nothing can progress. And provided this is achieved, if Nepal likes to develop trade relations with Japan, it has to produce the quality that Japan likes. What is the level or quality of products produced in Japan? Nepal should also try to reach that level and if such things are taken into consideration, Nepal-Japan trade relations could flourish. It is not that Nepal can send anything and Japan accepts them without any hesitation.


Q: I mean Nepal has a huge potential for foreign investors. Japanese investors could be interested in investing in different potential sectors, for instance in hydropower, in Nepal. So what could Nepal do to capitalize on this potential?

UNO: Of course, Nepal is rich in water resources. But now there is no such environment to deicide on this because the new government is yet to be formed. Who will look after water resources sector? Once these things are decided, it could be easier to say something on this. But for that, first the government should be stable.

In my meeting with the prime minister also the issue of hydropower dam was raised. But constructing dam for hydropower projects is a very costly business, which is not possible with grant support alone. Loan is an alternative but it is difficult because Nepal will have to return it. So now I cannot say anything about this.

Regarding suggestions on FDI, Japan can never say what you need to do regarding foreign policy. The past experiences show that Japan itself sees the attraction in certain country and goes there to invest. And there are also some examples where the government of the host countries make an appeal to the Japanese government and the Japanese investors may be attracted. So once it is stable and peace is institutionalized, Nepal can send its trade- related people to Japan to show the possibilities and potentials and attract investors.


Q: Japan has been world's best producer of renewable energy technologies (RETs). How could Nepal move for technology transfer in the renewable energy sector? There have been some activities in this sector through JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency), but this seems to be limited to some small-scale projects. Do you see any possibility for any large-scale programs in the energy sector? 

UNO: JICA has both big and small grants in operation. In small grants, JICA is supporting solar panels, micro hydro and other renewable technologies at the local areas. We can also build large-scale renewable energy projects, for instance a big solar energy plant, which could supply power to a large area like Kathmandu. But that demands big investments, which may not meet the criteria of the JICA. Such projects could be done through loan. But when it comes to loan, it will be a problem for Nepal. [July 21, 2008, TKP]

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