Interview with Amb. Shimanouchi, Councilor of APIC
Q1. Please tell me about your involvement in the Caribbean Islands.
In 2004, when I was the Director-General of the Central and South American Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I was given a new assignment as Ambassador to Spain, followed by Ambassador to Brazil, then I retired from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2010. I didn’t think that I would be in a diplomatic position again, but in the autumn of last year I received a proposal to take part in the government’s plan to increase communication between the Caribbean and Japan, and to raise interest and awareness in and of the area. I thought it would be a bit presumptuous of me to take part in this plan as I have no experience living in the Caribbean, but I have confidence that my fondness and earnestness for the wellbeing of this area won’t lose out to anyone else. Thus, I have been appointed as the special assistant to the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Caribbean, representative ambassador.
Q2. I understand that you have visited 13 nations in the CARICOM (Caribbean Community); what are your impressions on these countries?
The Caribbean has been used as the filming location for numerous Hollywood films, so when we think of the Caribbean we automatically think of a paradise of cobalt blue seas, white beaches, and clear blue skies. When you go and visit these islands yourself, they are even more beautiful in person than on screen. It takes a minimum of 17 to 20 hours without including connections to get from Japan to the Caribbean, but when you arrive you don’t feel like you’re out of place. There are certain parts that make you feel like you’ve never left Japan; the fresh and delicious seafood, the numerous Japanese brand cars on the road, and the beautiful views looking out onto the blue sea.
Q3. When you mention the Caribbean to young students like myself, the first thing that comes to mind is the “Pirates of the Caribbean” attraction at Disneyland...
Well if that’s the case then let me explain the history of the area so you can get a better understanding. The Spanish were the first Europeans to come into the Caribbean; however, in the 16th century the British, French, Dutch and other European nations started coming into the region one after another, and the ownership and governing power of the islands were changing at a bewilderingly fast pace. Hence the Caribbean became a mixture of many different cultures and languages. Later on in the 17th century the Caribbean became the main production site of sugar cane, which was consumed in large quantities by the Europeans; in order to keep up with demand for sugar cane, Africans were forced into slavery and sent by ship to the Caribbean to work on sugar cane plantations. This created a dependency on slave labor to keep the economy afloat, and is the reason why the majority of the population today is of African descent.
Q4. APIC is currently supporting the Pacific Islands which are very vulnerable to natural disasters; how about the Caribbean Islands?
The Caribbean is also very susceptible to natural disasters, in particular, hurricanes. It is hard for many of these countries to operate financially, and some are finding it easier to remain a territory of their West European country. Because not all countries are fully independent, there still exist to this day islands governed by France and the Netherlands.
Going back to the severe damage done by hurricanes, there have been cases in the past where a single hurricane has destroyed more than two years’ worth of GDP. Also heavy rains in a short period, earthquakes and volcanoes, and large tsunamis cause great damage to the area. The closest disaster in recent memory is the death of over 300,000 people in the Haitian earthquake in 2010.
To touch upon the subject of the environment of the international economy, the Caribbean Islands have a limited amount of arable land, forcing the region to rely heavily on imports, which is a cause of the Islands’ low self-sufficiency rate. Electricity bills are high; many of the islands rely on thermal energy, and fuel imports are putting a severe strain on government expenditures. The islands do possess some light industries, but the main income comes from tourism; however, after the financial crisis of 2008 the tourism industry has not yet fully recovered.
Q5. After listening to you speak about the Caribbean and their susceptibility to natural disasters, it seems that this region needs support from the international community; what are your thoughts on this?
The Caribbean Islands are relying on Japan to provide help in reducing island-specific vulnerability. As we are both island nations with similar problems on our hands such as natural disaster prevention, food production, and sustaining renewable energy sources, Japan has a large role to play in helping to solve these issues. Take food production, for example. The Japanese fishing industry has given its assistance to countries in the region with helping to improve the rate of self-sufficiency. This is a reason why the continued support of the Japanese fishing industry will be important from here on out.
On the subject of climate change, many of the Caribbean Islands are going to be some of the first countries to be directly affected by global warming. This makes it imperative to take a new approach to and support the prevention of global warming. Above all, the implementation of natural energy sources such as geothermal, solar, and wind power has been a long-held desire for the area, which provides Japan an enormous chance to effectively use our ODA and technology to assist the region.
Q6. Could you please tell us more about the Japan-CARICOM Friendship Year 2014?
The year 2014 marked the 20th anniversary that Japan and CARICOM started holding annual consultations. It was also the 50th anniversary of the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago. For these reasons 2014 was set as the Japan-CARICOM Friendship Year where both parties planned events and formal diplomatic ceremonies together. In July 2014 Japanese Prime Minister Mr. Shinzo Abe was the first official Prime Minister to make a public visit to the region and met with the Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago, and held a summit meeting with the CARICOM countries. On 14 and 15 of November, the ministers of foreign affairs to the Caribbean Islands were invited to Tokyo where a conference was held on Japan-CARICOM relation. This was indeed the most fruitful year thus far for Japan and CARICOM relations.
Q7. Lastly, please explain about Japan and CARICOM cooperation relations, and APIC’s role.
The issue of setting the income tax base has been a pending item on the list of problems to solve between Japan and CARICOM. In addition to the challenges that are facing the Caribbean that I mentioned before, some of the Caribbean Islands are scarcely populated, which in turn makes per capita income higher. Therefore, if you apply OECD income standard to these countries, they will automatically be non-eligible countries of receiving ODA. Thus CARICOM insists that they are comprised of many different small islands and they should be treated differently than larger nations. This is a clash in opinions with the OECD. The Caribbean Islands have a very limited amount of steady source of wealth; you can see this directly when you visit the region. Even the countries whose per capita incomes are the same as or lower than CARICOM, if their size of the economy are bigger than CARICOM, they have advanced amenities, which CARICOM countries don’t.
With this in mind, Prime Minister Mr. Abe attended the Japan-CARICOM summit in July and promised to consider ways to provide support not based on per capita income level. Foreign minister Mr. Kishida confirmed the following three points:
1. To conduct a survey on renewable energy and reduction of energy use in August
2. To start a survey on disaster prevention measures
3. Lastly, to consider a concrete cooperation based on these surveys.
This can be considered a good start to solving the root of the problem of not being able to receive sufficient ODA. This is the beginning of a semi-long process which requires a solid footing to get it set on course. If this problem was not addressed and steps were not taken to solve it, it would have been an anticlimactic end to the cooperation between Japan and CARICOM.
Regarding the establishment of the Japanese embassies in the area, we currently have posts in Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica, and a chargé d’affaires in Haiti. Out of the 14 countries, we have three physical embassy locations. CARICOM is not only an active supporter of Japan in the international arena, but a well-trusted partner. Because of their English-governed democratic institutional history, they have a plentiful reserve of talented people who are eloquent, multi-talented, persuasive and well-respected; this is a great benefit when it comes to presenting at large-scale conferences, and ultimately at the U.N. Japan believes that it is very important that the Caribbean Islands are duly recognized and receive proper attention for the challenges they face.
At APIC, we use the Japan-CARICOM Friendship and Cooperation Fund to give active support to solving challenges in the field of environment, energy, and tourism. Most importantly, both parties are highly anticipating the progress that is to come from tackling issues of food production, disaster prevention, and renewable energy. Japan has strengths in all these areas, and APIC`s involvement with the Japan-CARICOM alliance comes at an opportune time in the alliance between the two regions.
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