ASTANA – Building on their long history of international cooperation, including in nuclear weapons nonproliferation, Japan is voicing strong support for Kazakhstan’s new Agency for International Development, KazAID, which has been under development since 2013 and which is seen in Tokyo as an important avenue cooperation. Japan’s investment in Kazakhstan is also growing steadily, most recently with the launch of a production line of Toyota Fortuners in Kostanai, building on top of the existing cooperation in nuclear energy and the oil and gas sector.
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Masayoshi Kamohara assumed office in Astana in November 2013. He received The Astana Times staff at his residence to discuss Kazakh-Japanese relations.
Japan’s Silk Road Diplomacy policy for Central Asia was developed in 1997. Could you tell us a little about this concept, what criteria it includes and what are its strategies and adaptations?
Many things happened in the first half of the 1990s … especially on the Eurasian continent. In this part of the world, five countries [in Central Asia] got their independence. Having these huge geopolitical changes in mind, the Japanese government
developed this idea and, since then, the Central Asian region has taken an independent position in our foreign policy. Japan has been developing good bilateral relations with each country of the region and trying to encourage regional cooperation among our new partners.
One concrete example is the launching of the Central Asia+Japan dialogue [ten years ago]. This year, the meeting is taking place in Bishkek on July 16 at the foreign ministers’ level. Every meeting has a common agenda in which all the parties have more or less the same degree of interest. We are looking forward to witnessing further progress in our common efforts.
There are more than 70 major Japanese companies and Kazakh-Japanese joint ventures in Kazakhstan today. In your view, what draws them to Kazakhstan? What is so attractive to Japanese investors?
First of all, Kazakhstan has almost all possible natural resources and Japan, on the other hand, has almost nothing but human resources. Thus, there is already a natural condition to cooperate. At the same time, Kazakhstan is trying very hard to improve its investment climate.
Japan has a particular interest in promoting cooperation with Kazakhstan in the fields of energy, oil, gas and uranium. What other cooperation can Japan propose to Kazakhstan today in the fields of high technology, green energy and renewable energy?
Now, the Kazakh economy is continuing to develop and there are more and more possibilities for working together. One good example is the recent launch of production of Toyota cars in Kostanai. If this project proves to be successful, I am certain that other Japanese car makers will follow. By the way, all the Japanese companies are very conscious of the necessity to equip their foreign partners with their own technology and know-how. Japanese investment means technical cooperation in the private sector. I, as an optimist, cannot see any reason to limit the future possibilities for cooperation.
Kazakhstan and Japan have a long history in nonproliferation and nuclear weapons disarmament. In 2013, for instance, The ATOM Project delegation from Kazakhstan travelled to Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, promoting peace and nuclear nonproliferation. How important are such causes in your view today, and how realistic are their ambitions?
We all know that both Japanese and the people of Kazakhstan suffered in the past from nuclear weapons explosions. Nuclear weapons are not just another kind of powerful weapon: they belong, in my view, to a completely new category of weapons with unjustifiable side effects. Only those who have directly experienced the damage understand this. That’s why it is our common duty to explain the horrifying facts about nuclear weapons to those who are not yet aware. Unfortunately, so far, I cannot see the end of our endeavour. However, the most important thing at the present stage is to never give up on our final goal.
Japan’s basic policy is of the peaceful use of nuclear energy – but many people in Kazakhstan don’t understand this concept. Some are afraid of suffering the fate of the Fukushima Daiichi plant in 2011. Could you explain the concept of peaceful use?
Simply speaking, it means non-military use of energy. I am not an expert in this field. But I can say it is necessary and very useful to further develop nuclear technology. Today [July 11], Japan has been hit by an exceptionally strong typhoon. Many experts are of the view that the extreme weather we have been experiencing over the past decade could be caused by global climate change triggered by high levels of carbon dioxide emissions. A lot of electric power plants are burning coal, gas and oil, which create huge volumes of carbon dioxide. Nuclear power plants don’t produce these emission. … Furthermore, if our experts succeed in developing nuclear fusion technology, we will have unlimited clean energy. But this can happen only if we continue our efforts to develop existing nuclear technology.
You mentioned the disaster in Fukushima. I’d like to say that so far, no one has died because of radiation, though many people have been forced to abandon their homes and farmland. Yes, there are damages. But bearing in mind the multi-vector negative effect it would have on the society and economy, it seems to me that abandoning nuclear technology because [of] that accident is the easy way out. …
[T]he nuclear reactor in Fukushima is one of the oldest types; it belongs to the first generation. We already have fourth generation reactors, which are far safer than the first generation. By the way, if you get sick and go to hospital, you might have x-ray pictures taken. This is also an example of the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
On a personal note, what is your impression of Kazakhstan?
Kazakhstan is a very interesting county. I had no experience in the past in a society with nomadic and Islamic traditions. It is a young state with long history. It is always interesting for a diplomat working in a quickly-developing country. … I hope that Kazakhstan meets its Strategy 2050 goals.