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Interview: Ambassador to Japan of the Republic of the Marshall Islands: His Excellency Mr. Tom D. Kijiner

Interview: Ambassador to Japan of the Republic of the Marshall Islands: His Excellency Mr. Tom D. Kijiner

APIC interns conducted an interview at the embassy of the Ambassador of the Republic of the Marshall Islands to Japan, Mr. Tom D. Kijiner. The Republic of the Marshall Islands has deep ties with Japan; was occupied by Japan in 1914 during WWI, with Japan ruling the “Pacific Islands” in the League of Nations Mandate Territory. After WWII the United States took over, and in 1986 signed a Compact of Free Association with the U.S., subsequently becoming an independent nation. (The interview took place on September 16th, 2016. Interviewers: APIC intern Mr. Kimpara (Sophia University)).

Q. Could you please tell us about the relationship between the Marshall Islands and Japan?

The relationship between the Republic of the Marshall Islands and Japan started during the League of Nations, before WWII, continuing for over 100 years. The Marshall government feels a special connection with and is grateful for the connections between our country and Japan, and with the Japanese people. There are various opinions on the Japanese rule, but in the case of the Marshall Islands I believe that there are more positive elements than negative ones. I am proud to say that our people were able to learn about the characteristics of Japan and traditional Japanese lifestyle, which are still woven into life on the Islands to this day. Additionally, the Japanese men who came to the Marshall Islands as businessmen and army married local women, and their descendants are active in Marshall society.

Q. Please tell us about the measures being taken in regards to the Marshall Islands’ environmental problems.

While this is an extremely serious problem for the Marshall Islands, it is also a serious problem for other island nations in the Pacific. This was a central topic brought up in the 2015 Island Summit. I’m convinced that the 50-billion yen economic support that Prime Minister Abe pledged to the Pacific Islands was very valuable to the region. We can ask for a higher level of transparency by having a place to talk with Japan and other nations about funds for climate change, and the Marshall Islands believe that we should be a part of that discussion as well. We also want to make clear what we can do to protect our country from the effects of climate change.

Q. Please tell us about the Marshall Islands’ policies toward the tourism industry.

Even though we`re in the same Micronesia region, unlike countries that are closer to Asia such as Palau, access to the Marshall Islands is quite bad, putting us in a disadvantageous position for tourism. However, we haven’t given in to these disadvantageous elements, and are planning a tourism push focusing on nature in hand with environmental policies. Not just the sprawling nature that the islands possess, but it’s also important that we also emphasize the multitude of tourism resources that the Islands have to offer, such as sunken war ships from WWII that lay in the ocean around the islands.

Additionally, another problem I believe we need to tackle is mitigating the country’s geographical weakness and difficult access from overseas not only through domestic institutional order, but by initiatives such as putting a visa-exemption application program in place, etc.

Q. What are you hoping for in the development of relations with Japan?

Students will be a very important element in the case of maintaining a friendly relationship with Japan throughout the future. Through mutual interaction between Marshallese and Japanese students, it is possible to create a better relationship. In recent years, there are basic programs in place such as where Marshallese high school students of science visit Japan, or children from the Marshall Islands and Japan come together and interact with each other, but we need to further deepen and expand these sorts of activities.

On the subject of college-level interaction, there are programs such as JICA’s Scholarship Program and educational programs that travel to the Marshall Islands, but in reality, only about one or two students visit the Marshall Islands a year. There is also a scholarship to complete a Master’s program in Japan, but there aren’t many students from the Marshall Islands taking advantage of this. In regards to this exchange student program, I believe that if the period of stay were longer, it would be possible to acquire even more important experiences than currently.

As the Ambassador to Japan, I want to work so that more Marshallese will visit Japan, and so that more Japanese will want to visit the Marshall Islands. In particular, I want to put in special effort and work with the Japanese government so that the movement of people becomes smoother, and to put in place a visa-exemption program between the two nations.

Interview: Ambassador to Japan of the Republic of the Marshall Islands: His Excellency Mr. Tom D. Kijiner
(From left: Mr. Kimpara, Ambassador Kijiner, Minister Note, Mr. Kohara)

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