Kojiro Shiojiri became ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of Japan to the European Union in May of this year. He was previously ambassador to Indonesia and deputy ambassador to the United States. He spoke to EurActiv’s Jeremy Fleming at the Japanese mission in Brussels.
How is Japan recovering from the tsunami and its fall-out earlier in the year?
It is already six months since the tsunami crisis and there has been a much faster recovery than we expected. The supply chain and industrial production has returned to a good level, so we are satisfied that the recovery is making steady progress.
On the other hand, because of the world economic situation we have other concerns now. So the recovery is okay, but the economic crisis and the high appreciation of the Japanese Yen as a result is concerning us.
What are the prospects of an EU-Japanese trade agreement and has the EU-Korean Free Trade Agreement had any impact on these?
Japan wants to have not only an economic but a political agreement, we want it to have a much broader perspective, to be conducted at a high level and to be comprehensive. The reason is that we want to elevate, enhance and reinvigorate our relationship with the EU.
Considering their relative gravity in the world, the EU and Japan should have a much stronger relationship. Trade is an important aspect of this but only part of the broader agreement we wish to have.
Certainly the Korean-EU agreement has had an effect, and it does impact on our industry on our trade with Europe. It has had a negative impact on Japanese trade and that is one factor leading us to want to conclude comprehensive agreements with Europe.
There has been a decade of low growth and ‘stagflation’ in Japan, this is something that Europe fears is now on its own doorstep. Can Japan teach Europe any useful lessons on how to avoid this outcome?
Every country has its own background and it is not automatically easy to apply rules from one to the other. We have strong international cooperation in the G20 and since the economies are all interlinked, exchange of information and policy dialogue are very important. So I would say that it is not a matter of Japan teaching lessons, but sharing its experience, and we are doing this every day with our counterparts in the EU.
Are there any particular policies that Japan can assist with?
We are very carefully watching the situation and there are many and various measures required and of course we have the need for a quick response. But the longer term is also very important, and this is where Japan and Europe have very common challenges: sharply ageing societies, fewer working people, the need to reform social security systems, and managing all these issues in a holistic manner, without focusing on one aspect.
You were working in Brussels during the 1980s, what changes do you notice between then and now?
It was thirty years ago when I was last working here, when there were only ten member states. So the size is totally different and thirty years ago we were living in the Cold War and now it’s a globalised era, so in this respect the world dynamics have changed a great deal. But the impression I have is that Europe is moving up the ladder.
At the moment it is facing big challenges, but Europe has a great asset in its human enterprise, in many ways it is the model continent for human enterprise, so even if there are ups and downs I am very confident and certain that the EU is moving forward and moving upward.
In Europe everyone is focused on the financial crisis in Europe. This is also a crisis affecting the currency relationship between the US and China, is that something that appears more important in Japan?
Yes, that is right, we are now living in a global economy and Japan is very concerned with the present situation, especially in the aftermath of the huge damage caused by the tsunami disaster. We are perhaps more keenly aware of these issues than others, which is why we want to achieve a closer relationship with Europe.
Japan is closely associated with technological innovation, which Europe is very keen to foster at the moment, are there any tricks we can learn from the Japanese?
This is my personal judgement – I do not know if I am right or wrong – but to be innovative is not a matter of individuals, you need many, many good people to be innovative. You need a broad ground of people, and good education and links between business and education, that is I think the trick.
Europeans often associate Japan with high technology, what do Japanese associate with Europe?
I think Europe has a strong reputation for goods, we have also learned a lot from European countries and you have very strong reputation for innovation and creativity and for being new-thinking people. In this respect our industry always considers Europe a good partner. Trust and reliability are keywords for the Japanese and in these respects the EU has a very good reputation.
The Arab Spring has caused a stir in European policy, how much has Japan been affected?
It is a very important region and we are very interested in what is happening there. We are doing what we can in co-operation with our European partners, we need to foster the co-operation already under way.
In this period of crises, is there a crisis in diplomacy as well, is this a difficult period for an ambassador?
No, I frequently tell myself and colleagues that we should not be affected too much by the immediate things in front of our eyes. Of course we should follow these things carefully, but every time we have these kinds of crises, there is always a next one further along the track. This is just the start of a new Europe, not the start of the end of Europe.
I am very lucky that my mission is to strengthen the EU-Japanese relationship and to conclude an agreement, and I am very much set on achieving that during my term as ambassador. The EU is a great partner and important not only for us but for the world at large, and I am eager to clinch that agreement.