In this exclusive interview, Matsushiro Horiguchi, former ambassador of Japan to Bangladesh, talks to Tokyo-based Bangladeshi journalist Monzurul Huq and reflected on various aspects of bilateral relations that the upcoming visit of the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is bound to give a new impetus.
What are the main outcomes that the Japanese side is expecting from this visit?
It is epoch making that two leaders are meeting again only three months after they met last time in Tokyo at the end of May. Another milestone of the visit is that there is a record fourteen-year gap between the current visit of the Japanese prime minister to Dhaka, the last one was in 2000. This long interval was the result of political difficulties faced by Japan when the country's prime ministers changed every one year since Junichiro Koizumi left office in 2006.
I believe the main outcome of Mr. Abe's visit would be to show to the people of Bangladesh the real importance Japan attaches to her relationship with the country.
The visit is coming at a time when political situation in Bangladesh remains tense after the January 5 elections that the main opposition party boycotted. There remains the scope that supporters of the ruling block in Bangladesh will try to use the visit as a sign of Japan's endorsement of election results. How do you see the visit from that perspective, and do you think Japanese prime minister should give a clear hint of Japan's desire to see democracy in Bangladesh guarantees inclusivity, which is the essence of democratic principles?
In many of his speeches Mr. Abe mentioned very clearly about the importance of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. I believe this position is well known to everybody and Bangladesh is also not an exception.
Japan is trying to win the support of Bangladesh for Japan's bid for a non-permanent member seat in the UN Security Council. Bangladesh is still in the race against Japan as it has not yet withdrawn its candidacy, though Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had given a clear hint during her visit to Japan in May that she might convey the good news to her Japanese counterpart at the time when the Japanese prime minister's Dhaka visit materializes. Now as the visit is indeed materializing, how far are you optimistic about such an outcome?
In answering this question, I would like to remind you that Bangladesh has never faltered and never had been shaky on its pledge of support for Japan's bid for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council.
During Sheikh Hasina's visit to Japan in May this year, the two countries issued a joint declaration pledging to initiate a comprehensive partnership. What are the areas that this comprehensive partnership mechanism is supposed to include?
At the summit meeting last May, the two prime ministers launched the Japan-Bangladesh Comprehensive Partnership and decided to work out the details and modalities of such a partnership at the earliest. The Joint Statement issued after the summit had outlined various ideas and programs under three specific areas. The first is cooperation toward attaining global peace and stability; the second is economic cooperation leading towards the promotion of mutual interest and regional prosperity; and the third is promotion of cultural and people to people exchanges. The modalities are to be detailed based on these ideas.
Japan has committed significant economic assistance for Bangladesh during Sheikh Hasina's Tokyo visit. What are the priority areas that Japan would like to see such economic assistance funding are channeled for the development of Bangladesh?
In my view, industrial diversification is one of the top priorities that Bangladesh needs to work out for achieving the goals of “Vision 2021”, which is to become a mid-income country by that year. In view of the remarkable economic success of China, foreign investment should play the leading role to diversify Bangladesh economy. Wider regional development, including developing infrastructure for industrial growth and improving investment environment to attract foreign businesses has already been mentioned in the Joint Declaration, and therefore very important.
At the same time, we need to keep in mind that our highest priority in economic assistance is always on areas of enhancing social development, which is, contributing to the improvement of lives and livelihood of people.
Is this economic assistance coming at the expense of some form of political support that Japan is now trying to gain from various countries around the world as the situation in East Asia is increasingly turning tense?
For many decades before the situation in East Asia started turning tense, Japan had almost always been the biggest donor for Bangladesh. A large volume of aid has been pledged as Japan-Bangladesh relationship is now being elevated to a new comprehensive partnership.
We presume that a high level business delegation too will accompany Prime Minister Abe to Bangladesh. What are the prospects of increasing Japanese investment in Bangladesh, and why Japanese investor' are still not that enthusiastic in investing in Bangladesh compared to the enthusiasm that they have shown in investing in Myanmar, a country that in many ways not ahead of Bangladesh in creating a business-friendly investment environment?
One reason I know is that, foreign investors in Bangladesh have been requesting Bangladesh government to improve the manifold investment impediments for many years. But as the process of improvement of such impediments remains very slow, investors might have been getting a pessimistic message about the prospect of improvement. On the other hand, foreign investors in Myanmar may have a favorable view on the possibility of improvement of investment impediments in coming years, even though the present level of impediments might be quite like, or even worse than, what we see in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is also well known as a source of human resource supply. Several million Bangladeshis are working overseas and helping the economic uplift of countries where they work, as well as that of their own country. As Japan faces a serious shortage of human resources due to declining population and aging of the society, do you think there is any possibility for Bangladeshi labor force to join the labor market in Japan?
Yes, there is. An increasing number of foreign workers are now being employed by many Japanese companies for the necessity of adapting to the process of “globalization.” However, the problem is, no consensus has yet been reached on the question of accepting foreign work force in unskilled labor market for the fear of a negative impact on the wage level of Japanese workers in that category. But I believe that in this category of labor too, Japan, however, will be obliged to depend on foreign workers in not a distant future.
Last time a Japanese prime minister visited Bangladesh was in 2000, fourteen years ago. Prime Minister Abe's visit after a long gap is being materialized at the backdrop of a number of significant developments that both the countries had gone through during that period. Though Bangladesh has achieved significant gains in political, social and economic aspects of the country, Japan, on the contrary, had faced, and still facing, a number of difficulties. Do you think these reverse trends are bringing the friendly nations closer than before?
As for the reason for a fourteen-year gap of a Japanese prime minister's visit to Bangladesh, it was mainly because of the political confusion the country had been going through, which I have already mentioned while answering your first question. It is true that Japan faced and is still facing a number of difficulties. But, under Mr. Abe's leadership, Japan has been recovering in many respects. The main reason that lies behind closer relationship between Japan and Bangladesh is the fact that interdependence between the two countries has been strengthening due to the deepening of globalization process.
In Japan a new non-governmental body with the participation of people from various civic groups has been formed recently with the aim of fostering a better understanding between Japan and Bangladesh. We congratulate you for being elected the first president of that organization, the Japan-Bangladesh Society. What are you aiming to achieve and what message do you intend to convey to the policy makers in Japan for further improvement of relationship between the two countries?
Japan-Bangladesh relations have been developing satisfactorily in the past decades through mutual efforts. These relations have been diversified in many ways, responding to the remarkable development of Bangladesh in recent years, and now being elevated to a new stage of comprehensive partnership. Its modalities have to be detailed by both sides.
In handling such broader concepts and related projects, non-governmental organizations like the Japan-Bangladesh Society can play an important role, as they have the participation of people from various civic groups. Our Society will be helpful to the government in finding appropriate solutions to problems extending over various sectors.
The Society is going to share a deeper understanding and professional knowledge on Bangladesh among its members, and through discussions, deliver qualified messages on pertinent issues to the government.
The Society will also undertake such projects as deepening mutual understanding and exchanges between Japan and Bangladesh on the recognition that our relations are now at a turning point from one based mainly on aid to one on closer interdependence.
Since press coverage in Japan on Bangladesh are not necessarily reflecting the actual situation of rapidly developing Bangladesh, the Society also intends to play an active role in disseminating fair and balanced information of the changing situation in Bangladesh to the people of Japan and to the world.