On April 5thlast year, Mr.Hideyuki Sakamoto, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), presented the credentials stating his readiness to strengthen bilateral relations through continuing Japan’s support that the BH citizens can directly benefit and through dialogue and cooperation in a wide range of areas including politics, economics and culture. Before his mission in Sarajevo, H.E. Sakamoto served as Japanese ambassador to Namibia and was general consul of Japan in Frankfurt.
He starts his interview with Sarajevo Times news portal by saying that he was surprised how people in Sarajevo are friendly and quiet, and he is impressed with people and the country, as Ambassador says, have a “special charm”.
Following the signing of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina in December 1995, on February 9thnext year, diplomatic relations were established between Japan and BiH. Majority of people in BiH know Japan as a friendly country. How would you assess the bilateral relations between the two countries after 1996? Are the relations progressing?
“Our cooperation started after the war, with mainly supporting the restoration of the country. We established the liaison office in 1998, and the Embassy in Sarajevo latter in 2008,” H.E. Sakamoto says, adding that bilateral relations are good, friendly and growing, but there are potentialities for further cooperation in several fields.
First is the governmental cooperation as the development partner.
“The assistance is provided especially in schools, medical area and demining, of which people have more benefit, and in grant basis, we are supporting currently about 1 million Euros per year, in the Federation of BiH and Republika Srpska entity,” H.E.Sakamoto says, adding that the Japanese government will continuously support local people in BiH in those fields, if necessary.
He added that JICA, Japanese Governmental Agency has been supporting BiH through technical assistance in fields of capacity building of administration, education, small and medium enterprises and the development financing.
This assistance by JICA will be useful for the socio-economic development of this country and this type of cooperation should be promoted in the future.
Speaking about the current JICA projects, he said as an example that the technical assistance to improve public transportation with Sarajevo Canton has started this year and gas desulphurization plant will be completed soon at Ugljevik Thermal Power Plant. This is the project founded by the JICA development loan in the amount of approx. 200 million BAM, which is expected to drastically reduce sulfur dioxide and coarse particulates that pollute the air, as well as contribute to the protection of the environment in BiH and improve the health of nearby residents.
The second field, where we want to work together is trade and investments.
When it comes to statistics on trade between BiH and Japan, BiH mainly exported inorganic chemical products, wood and its products, and alcoholic beverages. The total amount of exports for last year amounted to 218,365 BAM.
On the other side, Japan mainly exported machines, electric machines, vehicles and its and its parts, all in the amount of 11,703,095 BAM. The total trade volume is increasing, although Japanese products produced in the third countries are not on the bilateral trade statistics.
He stressed the importance of the foreign investments and the future cooperation in this field, while at the moment ten Japanese companies have their offices in BiH, and a Japanese company has fabric in Konjic where 150 local people are producing high quality metal parts for cars and train, which are exported to European countries.
It is a trend now that the companies of the manufacturing sector in Europe give more attention to the Western Balkans region.
The third field is to promote further cultural and human exchanges between two countries.
The Embassy of Japan organizes public relation activities, cultural events, educational promotion, and people-to-people exchange in BiH. The judo tournament, Japanese calligraphy exhibition, and traditional music concerts are held every year.
When it comes to cultural cooperation, H.E. Sakamoto says they have very good cooperation with Universities in BiH, including scholarship by the Japanese government, and he recalled on the cultural grant aid on the amount of 2.5 million BAM by the Japanese government, as well as grant assistance for cultural grassroots projects in the amount of one million BAM.
Since October 2013, University of Sarajevo has organized the Japanese language course, taught by a native Japanese language teacher. This course started for anyone who might be interested in Japanese language, regardless of their age or occupation. It is currently attended by a hundred of people including primary school, high school and university students, as well as working people of various professions. The University also hosts Japanese Speech Contest every year and they are cooperating with Japanese Univerisites
“The University of Sarajevo is planning to build up the courses and studies to the students and we are willing to support this development”, Ambassador said, adding that they need more high ranking political visits and exchanges, recalling that Foreign Minister Igor Crnadak visited Japan two years ago.
“We are waiting new government to be formed, to have more political visits in the future,” Ambassador said, adding that BiH has still an image of the “post-wartime” for many Japanese including business people and it must be changed.
“There is still a big potential overall in cooperation between Japan and BiH,” Ambassador concluded.
When it comes to tourism, Ambassador states that more and more Japanese tourists are interested in East European countries and Balkan region.
“Around 10,000 Japanese tourists visited BiH last year,”Ambassador said, adding that the trend is increasing and that they are mainly interested in the coast and seaside at first, but visiting gradually also Mostar and Sarajevo.
“Generally, Japanese tourists have good impressions of BiH on the unexpected friendliness of the people, its history, unique culture and the natural beauty”, Ambassador added.
However, Ambassador notes that there should be the further development of regional cooperation for specific package travel routes including the cultural heritage in order to attract more Japanese and foreign tourists.
In January 2017, Hiroshima City of Japan and Sarajevo City signed the declaration on exchange of experience and cooperation between both cities. Sarajevo has similar history as Hiroshima city, not only because both cities suffered excessive damage during wars with a lot of victims, but also because they have revived from the ashes and splendidly developed.
“It is a Global Peace City Federation, to promote the peace among cities,” H.E. Sakamoto explained, adding that they have already started several projects including exchanges among school children between Japan and BiH.
As a member of the Peace Implementation Council Steering Board (PIC SB) since 1995, the Government of Japan has been actively providing support to the country’s renewal in approximately 1 billion BAM.
Japan is very far from Bosnia and Hercegovina; however, the various reconstruction support that Japan has extended is generally well known in BiH. In the future, cultural exchanges including Japanese language education and further economic cooperation including investment will be on the agendas.
Interview by Zejna Yesilyurt