Q&A: Japan’s new ambassador to Bhutan, Kenji Hiramatsu spoke with Kuensel’s Gyalsten K Dorji on relations between the two countries following 30 years of diplomatic relations. Excerpts from the interview.
How would you describe relations between Bhutan and Japan today?
This year is very important for Bhutan-Japan relations because we’re celebrating the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations.
I’m particularly happy to be the ambassador to Bhutan. Japan and Bhutan have been enjoying very friendly and traditionally a good relationship, specially cooperating in the areas of agriculture and infrastructure development.
JICA is very active in Bhutan. We’ve a very good relationship between the Imperial and Royal Family. Our political leadership also places great importance to the relationship. I was asked by our political leaders before I came here, that I should exert my best efforts to make sure that the already good bilateral relationship be enhanced during my tenure as ambassador.
How do you see relations between the two countries evolving?
We’ve been cooperating with the Bhutanese government, for example, by providing ODA (Official Development Assistance) in the field of agriculture, but I think there is scope for more expansion of our relationship which may include more exchange of people and also cooperation in the international arena.
We hope that we’ll be able to enhance more people-to-people exchange and more collaborative work in the global agenda. So my task is of course to, first of all, contribute to the development of this country but at the same time, have more cooperation in regional and global issues.
In Japan, there is a lot of interest towards Bhutan and I think this is the case too in Bhutan towards Japan. We hope that this good-will will materialize in ways of enhancing the number of tourists coming from Japan to Bhutan and also more Bhutanese to visit my country.
Bhutan has received Japanese assistance for decades. Will it continue?
You should have assurance that Japan will continue to support an important and friendly country like Bhutan as much as we can, even enhance the level of support to Bhutanese development and well-being of the people.
Of course not only on areas we’ve been focusing on so far but also to expand our sphere of cooperation, which includes more infrastructure development, electricity, and renewable energy.
What are some areas that Japan would like to support immediately?
Agriculture development is one of the pillars for your country’s development programme. We’d like to contribute in this area and we’re responding to the Bhutanese government’s request. For example, providing power tillers to all villages in this country.
We’ve already provided more than 3,000 power tillers since 1984, and based on the request we’ve conducted a preparatory survey on how we can support the government in this specific area. We are studying the possibility of providing more power tillers.
Does this mean that the Japanese government has officially accepted the government’s request for power tillers?
We understand that this is a very important project and we really hope that we’ll be able to contribute in this particular area. But how many power tillers will be provided remains to be studied.
Japan continues to be one of Bhutan’s top sources of tourists. Do you think the tourist tariff should be waived?
Tourism is very important for mutual understanding. As I said, there is a lot of interest in Japan for Bhutan. There’s a very good image of this country. We’d like to cultivate this image so that more tourists come from Japan. For that reason, we welcome any kind of tourist promotion package directed to Japanese tourists.