If I recite the countries that I love very much then next to Armenia I’ll name Italy, United Kingdom, Greece and some others… yet if I enumerate the countries that interest and even somewhat surprise me - those are just Germany and Japan. It seems almost mystery to me how do these two countries - severely destroyed during the world wars, exposed to the enmity of the entire world, bowed under the gravity of their committed aggressions and crimes – still managed within just several decades to heighten again like phoenix, restore themselves and once again become the world leaders not only in politics and economy, but also for the case of world peace, order and security.
Right because of that my interest I started the talk with the Ambassador of Japan to Armenia H. E. Eiji Taguchi from the theme of WWII.

The Echoes of WWII and Nowadays Threats

- Mr. Ambassador, I confess that the idea of requesting this interview with Your Excellency came to my mind after PM Shinzo Abe’s statement on the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII. I liked the text very much and was surprised with kind of criticism that it evoked in the world. Then I understood the problem was in phrase that further generations of Japanese, who have nothing to do with WWII, should not be predestined to apologize. Despite of all preceding and following apologies and condolences that literally covered Mr. Abe’s statement that single phrase attracted attention and the reaction was emotional.

- You say you liked the statement but it also evoked criticism. I may say that actually foreign governments - in Philippines, Australia, etc welcomed the statement. South Korea had some comments but also was positive about Mr. Abe’s declaration. Ultimately that declaration was absolutely in line a stated once more what the previous Japanese governments and PM-s had told on 50th and 60th anniversaries of WWII. We continuously recognize that Japan has committed aggression towards its neighbors and we apologize for that, of course also conveying time and again our condolences, regret and sorrow for what had happened. I think this our recognition of the truth and the deep regret for that laid the path to reconciliation with the other nations and governments.

-Surely , but mentioning the criticism I meant not the reaction of the governments, but rather the societies and the citizens who suffered during the war, for example the Korean woman that were exploited like “sex-slaves”. So far as they are alive the apologies may be vital to them.

- In that aspect, yes, the reconciliation is needed not only between the governments, but also for ordinary citizens who ultimately suffered the most and become the greatest victims of any war. On Japanese side we fully realize this. Still in 90-ies of past century we established a special fund and launched initiatives aimed to reach out those women, who’s dignity were severely injured with an involvement of Japanese military authorities during the WWII, whether in Korea, or Indonesia or Philippines. That kind of attempts for personal, individual reconciliation with the victims of WWII we make constantly, trying also to recompense somehow for their losses, if that’s possible, but not always we succeed. Sometimes these women just refused Japanese support.

- That may be understandable. After so many horrors that as Mr. Abe tells “make us speechless” the reconciliation with Japan may be very difficult for them, if ever possible, but the Japan is on right path if trying to reach that people.

- Yes, we try and keep making efforts. In December last year, we displayed another joint initiative with South Korean Government. The Japanese side will provide the funding and the Korean Government will establish a foundation in the purpose of providing support for the WWII victims, the women we talked about. We keep on with those efforts.

- Fine, as it’s the right way for turning the page of past. And now moving to the problems of our days it’s constantly repeated that one of the greatest dangers to the international peace and security is the North Korea’s ballistic missiles and nuclear program. What measures are taken against and are they effective?

- Actually there are several problems related to the peace and security in Asia Pacific region. First of them is the North Korea’s ballistic rockets’ launches and its nuclear program. You should know how the situation stands in the region - the year 2016 literally started with North Korea’s missile tests, which is a direct threat to its neighbors, mainly Japan and South Korea. The issue was taken to UN Security Council. A very strict resolution was unanimously adopted at UNSC condemning the Pyongyang missile tests and imposing some harsher sanctions on the country. Nonetheless the North Korea continues to test missiles and to work over its nuclear program. So the problem is there standing just on UN Security Council agenda and further necessary steps may be taken. However if all the countries of international community and especially the members of UNSC stand committed and fully implement the provisions of SC 2270 resolution, that is believed also may produce results.

- You told “there are problems in Asia Pacific region” - in plural form. What other problem did you mean?

- It’s the freedom of navigation in South China Sea.

- Oh, yes, all the countries and important officials not only in your region, but even in US, EU make statements on need of respecting the international Maritime Law in South China Sea. I hear about it all the time but still don’t succeed to understand properly what the problem is?

- OK, to be brief the problem is that the South China Sea like any other sea comprises the territorial waters of the seashore countries and also a large international water territory open for international navigation. Particularly the navigation through South China Sea serves crucial trade route for many countries in this region, including Japan. Now some of seashore countries claim that the international water territory should cease to be considered as such and the national jurisdiction of the said countries should extend to that water territories. In addition to that, the observation on this sea shows some large scale land reclamations, building of outposts which can be used for military purposes in the disputed area. That will mean an effective end of free international navigation in South China Sea and therefore the other countries do not agree with the approach and have serious concerns. Ultimately whether you maintain a coast at South China Sea or not, you care for free international navigation there. That’s the reason why from all continents you listen about the issue.
Now the Philippines has taken the dispute to the international court and within some one-two months a hearing is expected. Of course, not every state will accept the court ruling but the ruling will make difference at least politically.

- Yes… not the easiest region of the world.

Japanese Vision of Security and Defense

- Mr. Ambassador, I assume you’ve heard what the US Presidential hopeful Donald Trump has told regarding the Japan and South Korea. He suggests that Tokyo and Seoul should sooner or later obtain their own nuclear weapons to defend themselves from the North Korean “maniac”. What mood or response do these calls evoke in Japan?

- I’d refrain from commenting on Mr. Trump’s statements. But I may assure that Trump’s visions do not coincide at all with the position of Japanese government. We are active side of non-proliferation policy and agreements and we pursue the policy of “three no” regarding the nuclear weapons. The policy defines not to possess, not to produce and not to introduce nuclear weaponry, whatsoever, and we remain committed to this policy fully. We are the only country on the Earth that experienced the horror and consequences of nuclear weapons’ exertion, when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We faced the immense suffering and devastation of nuclear weapons ourselves and we fully support and stand with President Obama’s initiative for “nuke –free world” that he proposed in his Prague speech back in 2009. We wish the nuclear weapons to be abolished and not ourselves to get that weaponry.

- May I ask about another issue of your defense policy. I remember there were a lot of talks last autumn suggesting that Japan has changed some constitutional or legislative regulations and enabled the Japanese government to deploy its military forces in overseas operations, of course restricting that deployment to defensive purposes only.

- No, no any constitutional change was made, that were legislative amendments. Some amendments were made in last autumn as you rightly mentioned. All that amendments were dictated by the new realities of our rapidly changing world. First we had to amend our legislation in order to allow the Japanese military contingent and soldiers participating in international peace-keeping operations to use their weapons, guns, etc. not only for their own defense, but also when there’s a threat to the life of others whom they legitimately have to defend. Otherwise our soldiers couldn’t be effective in peace-keeping operations.
And in the autumn we moved to another amendment, allowing our Government to exercise the right of collective self-defense provided the three conditions are met. We may exercise defense when an armed attack against Japan occurs or when an armed attack against a foreign country that is in a close relationship with Japan occurs and as a result threatens Japan’s survival and has a clear danger to fundamentally overturn people’s right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Secondly when there is no other appropriate means available to repel the attack and ensure Japan’s survival and protects its people. And thirdly using of forces should be limited to the minimum extent necessary. These changes were made to comply with nowadays world reality still they do not change the mainstay and essence of our defense policy.

- Thanks, now the full picture is clear.

Involvement in South Caucasus and with Armenia

- Mr. Ambassador I have an impression that the Japan’s interests in territories lying on the west from Japan end somewhere in Central Asia? Am I correct? Or they move further to South Caucasus?

- I may agree that Japan is more active in Central Asia, than in South Caucasus. Right last year our Prime Minister made a tour visiting five central Asian nations. In South Caucasus we are not that active in sense of visits, etc, but nonetheless it’s a very important region to us. Just look at the region geographically; it’s a crossroad in all directions. Especially in case of Armenia on one hand you’re historically almost part of Middle East, on the other hand you’re part of Europe and the European Union presently is very much engaged in South Caucasus. On the northern side, there’s Russia with its influence and interests here. From the East, China is expanding its reach and they become more visible in South Caucasus.
So South Caucasus is really a region on crossroads and therefore peace and stability here are absolutely vital. We are much interested in regional stability here and therefore we consider that hostilities like one that broke out along the Contact Line in Nagorno Karabakh in early April should be prevented, not allowed to repeat anyway and the problems should be solved through peacefully negotiations.

- Sorry, how much did you follow the events unfolding in Nagorno-Karabakh and did you report further to Japan about it ?

- Of course we followed the events, but our knowledge isn’t that complete and detailed as we would prefer it to be. Actually we could follow mainly the information in English language and in Russian sometime but not every piece of news is equally available in English or Russian, so we could consider only part of overall information. Also unlike the other Embassies, our defense attaché resides outside Armenia, in Moscow, so he arrived after the events, still held the meetings at Ministry of Defense and his colleagues from other Embassies.

- Thanks, that was interesting. Mr. Ambassador, you surely know there’s large Armenian Diaspora around the world. Historically there was some Armenian presence even in Far East - in India, Hong Kong, Singapore, China, but to my knowledge not in Japan. So when did some relations formed between the Armenians and Japanese? After Armenia regained its independence?

- In some sense, yes, because the Japan recognized Armenia’s independence in 1991 and soon afterwards the diplomatic relations were established. But to be absolutely accurate the relations emerged a bit earlier, in 1988 after the Spitak earthquake. Japan was among the countries that provided emergency and then restoration support to Armenia, so bilateral communication and relations formed between the Armenian and Japanese sides just at that time. Afterwards as already I told came Armenia’s independence, our recognition, establishment of diplomatic relations, then followed some cooperation projects. Actually that cooperation advanced mainly through the channel of Japan International Cooperation Agency and contained technical support projects and loan projects.

- And where do we stand now, after the Japanese Embassy was established in Armenia last year? For example, in sense of political dialogue…

- Of course, there’s political dialogue between our countries. And I should mention that despite of huge distance between our countries, not that active official engagements and visits, still we cooperate very successfully on international stage, in various international organizations. You should know, President Sargsyan visited Japan in 2012. During the visit he also travelled to Sendai city, where a year earlier the Earthquake and Tsunami hit, and the population was severely damaged. So Mr. Sargsyan paid a visit that area and we highly esteem that gesture.
Last year the Deputy FM of Japan visited Armenia, and now I’m working over the program of Armenia’s National Assembly delegation visit to Tokyo.

- Wouldn’t it be more useful if instead of MP-s, an Armenian business delegation would head to Japan?

-OK, we are also working on economic ties; the Armenian side is particularly enthusiastic about organizing kind of Japanese-Armenian business seminar of forum in Yerevan, later this year. I try to promote the idea in Japan, and it seems that in some spheres, for example in IT branch there may be ground and space for cooperation. Still the problem and obstacle is that our countries are pretty distant and the information is insufficient, so the Japanese companies do not know about the Armenian IT sphere at all, and therefore you can’t promote and attract the business people so easily.

- Still the MP-s are ready there, yes? Fortunately in Armenia there’s more knowledge about Japan, and it’s not only about Sony, Nissan or Hitachi, but also something about Kobo Abe, Akira Kurosawa, the Kabuki theatre, just recently I came across some Bushido code pieces translated into Armenia. So there’s something to start with.

- I hope. Anyway, for all those who like theatre I’ve pleasant news –in September a Japanese Noh theatre will come to perform in Yerevan. You know this theatre? It’s even older than Kabuki, the Noh theatrical style comes from medieval ages, the 14th century, and they perform only in masks. I may tell they will be here. But I think the largest Japanese cultural layer known and even practiced in Armenia are the martial arts. Some 15 000 youth and adults to my knowledge are engaged in various martial art clubs for judo, karate, etc. It means they all know something about Japan and may be perfect base for promoting further knowledge about the country. More importantly now some 200 Armenian students study Japanese language at different levels and whenever they finally engage with translations we may significantly enlarge the mutual knowledge about each other. And at the end of all I value very much the personal contacts between the people and I’m focused to make as much people, professionals from Japan and Armenia, from diverse backgrounds to come together, meet and make friendships as its possible.

- Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much for the interview, and surely, I wish every success to all your endeavors. Thank you.