via Japan to strengthen ties with Zim – DailyNews Live 14 DECEMBER 2014
HARARE – Japanese community in Zimbabwe last week celebrated the 81st birthday of their Emperor.
Our Business Reporter John Kachembere (JK) caught up with the Japanese Ambassador to Zimbabwe Yoshi Hiraishi (YH), who is affably known as ‘Tendai’, to discuss the relationship between Zimbabwe and Japan among other issues. Below are excerpts of the interview.
JK: Japan-Zimbabwe relations were a bit strained in the period 2002 and 2012 but are slowly improving. Are there any measures that you are putting in place to ensure that there is increased cooperation between the two countries?
YH: Before answering this question, I would like you to think about the reason why Japan-Zimbabwe relations were a bit strained in the period between 2002 and 2012.
Firstly, I should stress that Japan has never imposed any sanctions or other restrictive measures on Zimbabwe during the mentioned period up until today.
Rather, Japan has so far continued to extend various kinds of assistance to Zimbabwe since Independence, even in the said period as well.
Our Embassy has been making the utmost efforts to support many local projects for socio-economic development in Zimbabwe, through the scheme of grant aid for grassroots human projects.
JK: But Ambassador, during this period, we have seen little Japanese activity in Zimbabwe, what could have caused this?
YH: Even then, according to you, Japan-Zimbabwe relations seemed to be a bit strained in the period 2002 and 2012.
I think this was only because of the fierce deterioration of the political and economic situations in Zimbabwe since 2000, including the well-known hyper-inflation.
This eventually led to the unwilling evacuation of most Japanese companies and citizens that used to be residing here in Zimbabwe and very active in the business field between japan and Zimbabwe. Such severe economic situation also hinders our government from continuing to implement the full-fledged bilateral economic cooperation with the government of Zimbabwe due to its budgetary problems.
For instance, the prolonged arrears of its debt prevent us to extend any new loan aid to Zimbabwe. Recently also, our fully-fledged grant aid projects have been unfortunately suspended because such severe economic situation had seemed to affect the ability of the Zimbabwean government to sustainably manage and maintain them.
Taking these phenomena into account, therefore, I think the most important thing is to get rid of all such practical difficulties in Zimbabwe at first. This will ensure that there will be increased economic cooperation between the two countries.
JK: Now that Zimbabwe has emerged from the woods, how are the relations between the two countries?
YH: When President (Robert) Mugabe visited Japan in June last year to attend the TICAD-V held in Yokohama, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had a bilateral summit meeting with him.
Prime Minister Abe expressed his commitment that Japan should work for the revitalisation of bilateral relations including the resumption of the full-fledged bilateral economic cooperation with Zimbabwe.
However, I should admit, as I mentioned above, that the successful results of those of our efforts must be subject to only an enabling economic and political condition in Zimbabwe. Therefore, it is needless to say that the mutual efforts from both sides, Japan and Zimbabwe, are most imperative. It will ensure the increased cooperation between the two countries.
JK: In 2012 a 16-member Japanese delegation came into the country to explore areas of investment, what’s the current position on this?
YH: There have been several positive findings through this mission. Several Japanese companies including the ones in the stated delegation keep sending their delegation to seek business opportunities in Zimbabwe.
The biggest development after the delegation is that the world’s sixth biggest paint company, Kansai Plascon decided to invest in Zimbabwe through Astra Industry in 2013.
An enabling investment climate, economic and political stability is also an important yardstick for foreign direct investment.
JK: Zimbabwe is currently struggling to secure funding for its economic blueprint, ZimAsset; does Japan have any plans to provide assistance to Zimbabwe to implement this document?
YH: The Japanese government has no direct scheme to support ZimAsset. However, we understand the importance of the four pillars of ZimAsset. Through individual projects under Official Development Assistance (ODA), we try to contribute to ZimAsset.
JK: Japan is an economic powerhouse not only is Asia but in the world and Zimbabwe can benefit immensely by trading with your country. Currently, how much trade is there between Zimbabwe and Japan?
YH: Information from our Finance ministry shows that this year Zimbabwe has so far imported goods worth about 4,15 billion Japanese yen (roughly about $41,5 million). This is mainly made up of vehicles and machinery.
In the same period, Japan has imported goods worth about 1,63 billion Japanese yen (estimated around $16,3 million). This is mainly made up of imports of Ferro-chrome, tobacco and cotton.
As you may know, three Japanese companies are investing locally, namely: Toyota Zimbabwe, Willowvale Mazda and Kansai Plascon Astra Industry. Other car and electronics manufacturers sell their products through their local agents.
JK: What other areas of cooperation do you think the two countries should work on?
YH: It is also important to revitalise the bilateral relationship in the area of cultural and sports programme.
Firstly on the cultural exchanges, for next year, we are now planning to bring here at least three Japanese artists groups from Japan next year, one in February and two for the Hifa in April. The artist groups coming to Hifa are expected to co-perform with Jenaguru Juniors during their stay. They are also planning to give their performances in Bulawayo and Victoria Falls.
Secondly, on the scholarship programme, our government this year has significantly increased the number of its scholarship recipients’ from Zimbabwe not only for the post-graduate but also for the undergraduate course.
And thirdly, in the area of sports exchange, we are greatly anticipating that Zimbabwe athletes will be successful at Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020. Under such expectation we intend to continue strengthening the bilateral cooperation in this area through dispatching more JOCV volunteers for sports.
We are also committed to continuing our support to Danhiko project which is meant to promote the self-reliance of the disabled persons through sports and vocational trainings.