Japan’s Ambassador to Bhutan, Kenji Hiramatsu who is in the country spoke to Kuensel’s chief reporter Tshering Palden on his visit. Excerpts
What is the purpose of your visit this time?
This is my 14th visit to the country and we have observed positive development in the relationship between the two countries in the past three years that I have been the ambassador.
Since the new government took office last month, I wanted to find the earliest time to convey the message to the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister that Japan remains committed to supporting Bhutan’s development efforts as we did in the past.
We’d like to enhance our efforts to support the 12th Plan and diversify our cooperation in areas such as infrastructure development, health care assistance, and environmental preservation.
Also, I wanted to inaugurate the Japan Week that showcases various aspects of Japanese culture and tradition.
What is the significance of Japan Week this year?
In addition to the traditional economic cooperation, we would like to enhance people to people exchanges by letting people of Bhutan know more about various aspects of Japanese culture.
This year the event was launched at the clock tower square with the demonstration of Judo, Karate, Kendo, and Tsugaru Shamisen by Hayate. Japanese films will also be screened as part of the week. In this way, I hope more people will be familiar with Japanese culture and feel more close to everything about Japan.
In 2016, the two countries celebrated the 30th anniversary of the establishment of a diplomatic relationship with a series of events in both countries. In June last year, HRH Princess Mako of Akishino visited Bhutan and was welcomed warmly by Their Majesties The King and Queen and the people of Bhutan.
This year, the prime minister visited Japan and met Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Japanese foreign minister Taro Kono was the first cabinet minister to visit Bhutan. His visit was a symbolic event to demonstrate that our relationship has become very close and we have achieved significant results. Based on these achievements made so far, we would like to enhance the level of cooperation with this government.
What are some areas that Japan would support in the 12th Plan?
Our cooperation goes back to the time when Dasho Nishioka came to Bhutan to support agriculture development, especially in horticulture. I am proud that all Bhutanese remember Dasho Nishioka fondly. Based on his achievement, the Japanese government has been supporting Bhutan’s development in many areas.
One area is infrastructure development. The last time I came here I inaugurated a bridge at Chuzomsa, Wangdue. It was the 22nd bridge we constructed in Bhutan. We are constructing another four bridges along the national highway that will be complete by 2020.
I am happy to see that these bridges have good acknowledgement, that they have high quality and durability and the local people highly appreciate the construction of the bridges.
We provided x-ray equipment and CT scan to JDWNRH, Mongar and Gelephu regional hospitals. These machines are used well, more than we had expected.
We are also keen to support in the area of disaster risk management. Japan is prone to any kind of disaster, so we have accumulated knowledge and experience on how to deal with possible natural disasters. We are happy to extend our cooperation so that Bhutan is better prepared for natural disasters in future.
Skills development plays an important role. We have provided some assistance to vocational centres and women empowerment. We are going to support in these areas too. We will continue to support the agriculture sector. We have already provided more than 3,600 power tillers.
We are also keen to address the issue of disparity between urban and rural areas. We are jointly trying to formulate a comprehensive development plan for Bhutan 2030. This plan aims to achieve a more balanced development in the country by providing our technical assistance. We held a seminar on the revitalisation of rural communities on how to enhance wellbeing and infrastructure in rural areas, which is also one of the focus areas for the new government.
Big cities like Thimphu are starting to have urban problems like waste management and environment-related issues. We are happy to work with Bhutan on how to address these urban problems by providing knowledge, technologies and equipment.
We would also like to have business to business cooperation. Last June I brought 21 business representatives to Thimphu to interact and to be briefed by the Bhutanese government. They are eager to find some business opportunities here. I know some projects are at an advanced stage of discussion.
Even though Bhutan is graduating from the least developed countries category, Japan stands ready to support in the future as we did before.
Could you share if there is any plan on the learn-and-earn programme for Bhutanese in Japan?
That is another matter for discussion. More than 700 students are in Japan studying Japanese language and we welcome their interest in learning the Japanese language. We would like to support Japanese language study in Bhutan by providing some materials and sending some teachers. Of course, we would like to facilitate students going to Japan.
We hope they fulfil their aims and objectives so they would have a good knowledge of the Japanese language and at the same time obtain some skills. We are trying to make sure that they live well and safely. For that, we will organise an orientation session for students living in Japan on December 14.
At the same time, the two governments have signed a memorandum of cooperation for the technical intern-training programme (TITP). We have been receiving many interns from various parts of the world and we have started to receive trainees from Bhutan. We made this cooperation to ensure that these interns will achieve their objectives in Japan and we will give the necessary guidance and protection to them.
TITP is intended to receive foreign interns in private companies to acquire skills and technologies in three-five years so that the interns get a better job in their respective countries. We will continue to work closely with the ministry of labour and human resources here and our ministries of health, labour, welfare, and justice, stand ready to talk with Bhutanese counterparts to make this programme successful. We would like to support first of all Japanese language studies here and we would like to have Bhutanese interns under the TITP.