Interview with Japan’s Ambassador to YemenStoking the fires of good relations with Japan [Archives:2004/710/Community]

February 9 2004

Diplomatic relations between Japan and Yemen were officially established in 1960s when Japan recognized North Yemen in 1963 and South Yemen in 1967 respectively. The visit by the then Foreign Minister Dr. Abdul-Karim Iriyani to Japan in 1987 marked the start of a new phase of the bilateral relations.
On the occasion of the unity of the former two Yemens, Japan recognized the newborn republic of Yemen immediately after its declaration in 1990. Since then, Japan and Yemen have been enjoying a good relationship.
His Excellency Mr. Ali Abdullah Saleh, President of the Republic of Yemen, visited Japan in March 1999. It opened a new chapter for the existing excellent relations between the two countries.
Japan's ambassador to Yemen, Yuishi Ishii, is a veteran Japanese diplomat who started his diplomatic career in April 1969 and since then he had occupied various diplomatic posts at the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Regarding his diplomatic service in Arab countries he worked in Yemen as Deputy Chief of Mission in the Japanese embassy from 1989 till 1992.
Regarding working in Yemen, he notes “This is my second service in Yemen. I have been here in Sana'a from 1989 till 1992 as Deputy Chief of Mission in the embassy. Therefore, I'm very happy to come back here again. For last 10 years, Yemen has developed rapidly, but the people of Yemen are still very friendly to me as before.''
There have been some Yemeni domestic issues and major regional developments that have recently occurred which the Yemen Times wanted to ask the Japanese ambassador to Yemen about.
To give our readers a clear idea about Japan's stances regarding those questions, Mr. Mohammed Khidr, Yemen Times writer, conducted this interview with the ambassador.
Following are edited excerpts.

Q: What are the main aspects of Japan's cooperation with Yemen?
A: It is no exaggeration to say that any Yemeni does not spend a day without using Japanese products such as cars, refrigerators, TV sets, and so on. The markets in Yemen are flooded with Japanese goods. Thus our commercial cooperation is very close. In addition, Japan has been making close cooperation with your country in the field of economic and social development by extending financial and technical assistance.
We have executed many water projects in the rural areas to supply drinking water to the residents for last over 30 years. More than half a million benefited from these projects. And we have been making financial and technical contribution toward the national project for combating Tuberculosis disease in Yemen since 1983 by building 4 Tuberculosis Control Centers, dispatching many Japanese doctors to Yemen, and receiving countless Yemeni trainees to Japan.
In addition to those, we have implemented a lot of development projects in the fields of agriculture, telecommunication, and solid waste management. And the volume of Japanese annual development assistance to Yemen is about $30 million on average since 1996.
Japan highly values Yemen's untiring efforts for Structural Reforms aiming at developing democracy and reform; therefore we are supporting that effort made by leadership of the Yemeni Government, aiming at economic and social development. To assist such efforts, Japan extended 5 Non-Project Grant Aids since 1996 amounting up to $65 million. In this regard, Japan is ready to support Yemen's endeavors for Nation-Building on the basis of promoting Development, Economic Reforms and Democracy, through its economic cooperation programs, in accordance with the principles of its ODA (Official Development Assistance).
In providing assistance to Yemen from now on, we will focus more on the following areas in line with the PRSP (Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper) and MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) to which Yemeni Government is committed. In the future we are to extend our assistance to Yemen and we focus more on the field of BHN (Basic Human Needs) such as Education, Water, and Health. Environment as well as Human Security such as De-mining and Assistance to Socially Vulnerable People. We want to concentrate or effort to extend more assistance to this country in the field of social and economic development.

Q: What kind of cooperation is there between the Japanese embassy and Yemen's NGOs, and what role does it play in this regard?
A: We make efforts to develop and activate the role of Yemeni NGOs through our Grant Assistance for Grassroots Projects (GGP). The GGP supports projects proposed by various bodies such as non-government organizations (NGOs) and local government authorities.
Since we introduced the GGP scheme to Yemen in 1989, the number of Yemeni NGOs which received financial assistance through the scheme has been increasing year after year. For example, we provided GGP funds to 11 projects implemented by non-profit organizations including NGOs and local governments in 2001 and 9 projects in 2002. The total of GGP funds to be extended to Yemeni non-profit organizations in Japanese fiscal year 2003 will count for almost $1 million.
Thus, the GGP has become one of main pillars in our cooperation with Yemen. Since I believe the development of NGOs is essential to fostering the civil society, I wish to increase our assistance to NGOs in the future.
In Japan we have not so many NGOs which work and act internationally. Maybe there are some Japanese NGOs that have just started to extend their activity in the international society, mainly they work domestically. We have no big NGO organisations in Japan, but we are putting some emphasis on developing NGO organisations that can work internationally.
There are so many NGOs in Yemen. In anyway there are some Yemeni organisations are doing so well but mainly they are facing some financial problems. At this moment we want to help them financially, as an embassy we help the NGO organisations by extending financial assistance

Q: What's Japan's assessment of Yemen's democratic experiment?
A: Yemen is the sole democratic republic in the Arabian Peninsula. In Yemen, almost all institutional arrangements necessary for democracy, such as political pluralism, women's suffrage, presidential elections, parliament, and local councils, have been materialized efficiently by its own initiative. Japan highly appreciates those efforts made by the government of Yemen to advance the process of democratization, and wishes to help Yemen to further promote it.
I think you need more effort to encourage the people to participate in the political fields but there is a structure of democracy available in this country so it is a very rare case in the Arab world, I think you have made legislative and the policy of applying pluralism and democracy on the occasion of the unification of the two parts of Yemen. Your constitution guarantees freedom of speech and pluralism, so everything is available here for democracy or democratization. So now as government and people have to make more effort to make such a situation more efficient.
In this respect, I have to refer to the Inter-Governmental Regional Conference on Democracy, Human Rights, and the Role of the International Criminal Court organized successfully by the Yemeni Government in Sana'a early January. I believe the fact that Sana'a Declaration was issued on democracy and that over 800 representatives participated from all the Arab and neighboring African and Asian countries, EU member countries, and international organizations as well as NGOs, indicates that Yemen's democratic experiments are highly appreciated by the international community. That was a very good indication for the world that Yemen is doing well in the democratic experience

Q: How would the Embassy make advantage of Sana'a, capital for Arab culture for activating Japanese tourist and cultural movement with Yemen?
A: It is my belief that cultural exchange is critically important to deepen mutual understanding between the people of our two countries. In this regard, I would like to point out that a Japanese traditional music team visited Yemen last October and their performance attracted many Yemenis. We are now planning to seize the opportunity of “Sana'a, Arab Cultural Capital 2004” to contribute to the promotion of cultural exchanges between our two countries. It is a token of our interest that Japan decided recently to provide audio-visual equipments to Children's Theater annexed to Sana'a Cultural Center. I hope our assistance will be conducive to the success of this big cultural event in Sana'a.
Yemen is considered by ordinary Japanese as a mysterious country full of exoticism. I am pleased to learn that the number of Japanese tourists to visit Yemen has been increasing recently despite the deteriorating security situation in the Middle East.
Although Yemen is little known in Japan, anyone knows about the legend of Queen of Sheba and Mocha coffee. I hope Aichi Expo which is to be held next year in Japan and in which Yemen will take part, will be a good opportunity for the general public in Japan to get to know more about Yemen. I think that the cultural exchange, cultural activities and cultural cooperation between the two countries are very important.
As a Japanese ambassador I want to encourage many Japanese to come here and may be you to encourage more Yemenis to go to Japan. I think this year is a very good opportunity to strengthen our cultural activities here because I have invited some groups related to cultural activities.

Q: What kind of relations does your embassy have with Yemeni press, particularly private and partisan organs?
A: Dr. Abdulaziz Al-Saqqaf, founder of Yemen Times was a friend of mine and when he was a professor of Sana'a University I used to have useful constructive discussions with him over many topics. And when he launched his career as a journalist by issuing the Yemen Times after the unification of Yemen in 1990, we expected he could be one of the pioneers of freedom of speech in Yemen. So he did not disappoint us as he did a good job and his newspaper has a very good reputation in terms of frankness and fairness and very constructive criticism.
Japan invited him to Japan at the beginning of the '90s. Therefore, I was shocked very much with his sudden passing. I hope that the Yemen Times under the leadership of Mr. Walid al-Saqqaf who succeeded his father, will continue to play an important role as a defender of freedom of expression to ensure free media in Yemen, it is a very important part of democracy in this country. I hope to have closer relations with not only the government newspapers but also with private and independent, and also the political parties newspapers.
We have some special program to invite journalists to Japan to get more information on Japan by themselves. In the past we invited some Yemeni journalists to Japan, we want to continue to extend such kind of invitation to Yemeni journalists.

Q: Do you think that there should be some news conferences every now and then held by the Japanese embassy, inviting journalists to discuss some important events?
A: It's a good idea. We usually issues press releases, but they do not seem enough for me, it is healthy to invite journalists to explain our position to very important issues. Maybe in the near future if we have a very important occasion to do so, I am ready to do that.

Q: What is Japan's government stand regarding the Palestinian question and the Middle East peace process?
A: Japan wants the peaceful, comprehensive and just solution of the Palestinian issue based on the UN Security Council's resolutions Nos.242 and 338. Japan has been supporting the establishment of an independent Palestinian state side by side with Israel.
At present, continued violence between Israel and the Palestinians endangers the Road Map. Japan urges both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides to stop their acts of violence and resume the peace negotiations. Japan, also, has been providing humanitarian assistance to alleviate the difficult conditions facing the Palestinians and support state building efforts for an independent Palestinian state.
On January 23rd, the Japanese government decided to extend emergency grant aid of approximately fifteen million dollars through UNDP and UNRWA to implement more projects for the sector of health, medical care and education in the Palestinian territories. The government of Japan is committed to continue to actively extend assistance to the Palestinian people in recognition that improving the humanitarian situation of the Palestinians is essential to promoting the Middle East peace process.
Moreover, we hope that we will play more active role in establishing peace between Israel and Palestine as well as Israel and Arab countries concerned. We want to make more active a play in the peace process in the Middle East issue.

Q: Don't you think it is unfair describing both Israeli and Palestinian acts as acts of violence?
A: Yes, I know that such kind of criticism to our policy if you are talking about both sides as doing violence at the same level, but anyway if you want to start peaceful negotiations between conflicting parties, you have to stop violence, any kind of violence so that we are now urging both sides to resume peace negotiations by stopping the violence. But in anyway the road map of peace is in a very critical situation. It is important to activate that process by starting and resuming negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Q: What do you think about this wall Israel is building?
A: Of course we are opposed to that idea and we say that Israel stops it.

Q: Are you in the process of activating the role of the Yemeni-Japanese, the Japanese-Yemeni friendship societies?
A: We have the Japanese-Yemeni friendship society in Tokyo in Japan and also at the same time the Yemeni-Japanese friendship society. Anyway the Yemeni society here in Sana'a is doing so well, I think. Very recently we opened speech contests in Japanese, we are providing Japanese language course and some Yemeni young people are studying Japanese language.
Maybe their activities are still limited so we have to activate their activities. I just want to have talks with the leaders of the friendship society on how to activate their activities. We are going to discuss how to activate their activities, as this is very important, maybe the core of our friendship.

Q: What is Japan's view on the development of events in Iraq?
A: This is a good opportunity for me to explain our policy on Iraqi issue. The problems of weapons of mass destruction, WMD, In Iraq and Iraqi defiance against the series of UN resolutions since the first Gulf War have been considered not a US-Iraq bilateral question, but as international one which should be addressed by the international community as a whole. My government tried to find a peaceful solution of the Iraqi question by diplomatic means including the support of the resolutions by the UN Security Council in the thinking that the international solidarity and unity alone could move the Iraqi regime to give up the defiance.
These efforts unfortunately did not bring a success and the war began. Japan supported the coalition headed by the US. At the same time, the Japanese government has started to offer various relief and humanitarian aid to the people of Iraq and the surrounding region, immediately after the war began. My government is now ready to engage in the assistance for the reconstruction of Iraq, to help the Iraqi people to win the peace, freedom and prosperity.
For this purpose, Japan established a “Law Concerning the Special Measures on Humanitarian and Reconstruction Assistance in Iraq'' last July. This law provides a structure through which Japan can make an appropriate contribution to assist in the prompt reconstruction of Iraq by Iraqi people. It authorizes the government of Japan to dispatch its Self-Defence Forces as well as civilians to Iraq in order to assist reconstruction of Iraq. As you know, our constitution does not allow us to send our Self-Defence Forces overseas to fight.

Q: Were you under certain pressure, western or American; to send troops to contribute in Iraq, how did the idea come to your mind as a government?
A: Of course there are different kinds of opinions concerning the dispatching of our Self Defence Forces (SDF) to Iraq. The Japanese government believes it is very important to demonstrate that the Japanese assistance will be done by Japanese people to Iraqi people, and also it is a very very important to participate in the effort of the international community to rebuild Iraq. Reconstructed Iraq is very important for the safety and security of the international community as well as the Middle East region and it serves also the interest of Japan which depends on the Middle East for nearly 90% of its oil imports.
So that Japan wants to make their contribution by themselves to rebuild and reconstruct Iraq through extending the humanitarian and extension of assistance to Iraqi people. So that is our own initiative and that is our own idea. We are going to deploy SDF in the southern part of Iraq and so far our SDF are warmly welcomed by the residents and the people in Samawa.
The mission of the SDF dispatched to Iraq will focus on the rebuilding of Iraq through the humanitarian and reconstruction effort, our troops will not engage in combats or combat actions and will not use force except in defending themselves. They are going there to help the Iraqi people to rebuild their country. Now the United Nations is ready to be involved more in the Iraqi question and also at the same time the UN is asked to come to Iraq to participate and I think that it is a good direction by the United States and the United Nations. So that we hope that the UN to return to Iraq.

Q: There were many protest demonstrations in Japan against sending your troops and you didn't care.
A: Just as I've already said there were so many opinions on dispatching our troops to Iraq. Some people very much opposed to that idea but we say said that the Japanese government made a decision to dispatch their forces in the frame of humanitarian assistance. And also the UN Security Council resolution asked the international community to participate in the reconstruction of Iraq. So we are making our effort in the frame of the international community effort to rebuild Iraq.

Q: What are in your opinion the prospects for development of future relations between Japan and Yemen?
A: As I said Japan and Yemen have been enjoying excellent bilateral relations. We consider that Yemen occupies very important geographical location, since Yemenis are located at a strategic point in the Arabian Peninsula, looking over the gate of the Red Sea which is one of the major international sea lanes. Yemen's domestic stability is bound up with the safety of the entire region.
Accordingly, the political and economic stability of Yemen is desirable in order to secure stability in the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa region. In light of such concepts, Japan gives great importance to maintaining and strengthening existing good and friendly relations with Yemen. And I believe that Japan is regarded by Yemeni people as good partner. Therefore, our two countries can further promote friendly relations in various fields in the future.

Q: Would you like to add any final remarks?
A: Just as you know this is my second credit to Yemen and because I have been here in Sana'a from 1989 to 1992 as deputy of mission in the embassy. I enjoyed a lot my first years in Yemen. I am very happy to come back here as ambassador after ten year. Your country has developed rapidly and Sana'a has extended so widely, but the people of Yemen are still very friendly to me as before. I hope that the friendly relations between the two countries are going to be flourishing and developing and I just want to exert more efforts to further bilateral relations.