Address by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Dermot Ahern T.D., to the Ireland Japan Association
Check Against Delivery
Address by the Minister for Foreign Affairs,
Mr. Dermot Ahern T.D., to the Ireland Japan Association
18 January 2007
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to be here with you tonight for the Ireland Japan Association’s annual dinner and to celebrate 50 years of Ireland Japan relations.
Let me first pay tribute to the excellent work of the Ireland Japan Association since its establishment in 1990. The IJA plays a key – and greatly valued - role in strengthening the business, cultural and social links between Ireland and Japan.
Successful relationships are about bringing people together and sharing what each has to offer. This you do splendidly and I wish you every success in your future work.
I would like to thank Ambassador Hayashi for his tireless work to enhance relations between Japan and Ireland. The Ambassador’s enthusiasm and dynamism in promoting contact between our two countries is greatly valued by the Government. I would also like to acknowledge the work of Ambassador Scannell and his team in Tokyo in putting Ireland on the map in Japan. Your efforts are key to ensuring relations go from strength to strength so, ganbatte kudasai.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Japan holds a fascination for many Irish people, myself included. The richness of Japanese culture – from its ancient roots to its dazzling modernity – has captivated many over the years and continues to do so. The creativity and ingenuity of Japanese technology and its application is a source of inspiration. The friendliness, consideration and courtesy of the Japanese people themselves is a delight to experience.
If you visit Japan – and I have been twice in recent years as Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources in 2003 and last year as Minister for Foreign Affairs – you will see on the sides of the famous bullet trains the slogan ‘Ambitious Japan’. This, for me, encapsulates the essence of Japanese success – the spirit of endeavour, to think outside the box and to strive to be the best. It is an outlook we share in Ireland where, over the past fifteen years, Irish men and women have worked hard to achieve the economic success that we enjoy today.
Fifty years is an important milestone in any relationship. Ireland and Japan formally established diplomatic relations on 5 March 1957. With this important step, both Governments set out to develop relations. Building on this move, official and Government level contacts took place, resident embassies were opened in Dublin in 1964 – the year of the Tokyo Olympics, and in Tokyo in 1973 – the year Ireland joined the EU. Since then the embassies have worked hard to provide services to the growing number of Irish and Japanese people who chose to make a home and to build a living in our two countries.
Indeed, over the course of these fifty years, the links between Japan and Ireland have grown in all areas – political, cultural and economic. Today, in the words of the Taoiseach, politically and economically, Japan is Ireland’s strategic partner in Asia and engagement with Japan is a cornerstone of the Government’s Asia Strategy. We share common values of democracy, human rights and the market economy system and these values provide a firm foundation for the increasingly close relationship that has developed between our two countries.
This is why the Government believes it is important that we celebrate the landmark of fifty years of relations. Last month, together with Foreign Minister Aso, I issued a declaration welcoming this important anniversary and setting out a framework for a programme of commemorative events – in Ireland and in Japan – to celebrate the richness of our bilateral relationship. For their part, the two Governments are organising a series of important events. In the political arena we will hold political and economic consultations in Tokyo and in Dublin. We have pledged to work closely together at the UN and on international issues. Visits at all levels play an important role in deepening mutual understanding and a Ministerial visit from Japan to Ireland would receive a warm welcome from the Government. In the cultural sphere, a broad range of events are being held in Japan and in Ireland to bring to a wide audience the wealth of our respective cultures and traditions. And, of paramount importance, we will take steps to enhance the business environment between our two countries so that our healthy trade relationship can continue to develop to the benefit of us all.
I wonder if, fifty years ago, when our two Governments took that important first step in opening diplomatic relations they could have imagined the blossoming of contacts that would take place in the years that followed. In a few moments I will say something about the dynamic relationship that exists today between our two countries. But, just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, the history of interaction between Japanese and Irish people did not start fifty years ago, but go back much further. I was intrigued to discover that, 135 years ago, members of the celebrated Iwakura Mission visited Dublin as part of their grand tour of Europe. We do not know much about their impressions of Ireland but we do know that they tried a pint of Guinness while they were here – just like the many thousands of Japanese tourists who visit Ireland every year.
Irish people have been travelling to Japan for many years, too, making an important contribution to modern Japan and bringing with them a little bit of Ireland. We all know of Lafcadio Hearn, or Koizumi Yakumo as he is known in Japanese, whose writings at the turn of the last century provided an important window on Japanese culture for many westerners. The sport of hockey was introduced to Japan by a fellow of Trinity College, the Reverend William Grey, and the centenary of the sport in Japan was celebrated in 2005. The first score for the modern Japanese national anthem – the Kimigayo – was penned by a Cork man, James Fenton, who is also regarded as the father of brass band music in Japan.
Japan has served as a muse for many Irish poets and writers, such as W.B. Yeats, Louis MacNeice and Derek Mahon to name but a few. Later this year an important anthology of Japanese influence on Irish literature will be published which will bring to a wider audience the cultural interplay between our two countries. I think interplay is a good word, because this interaction is very much a two-way street. The phenomenal success and popularity in Japan of Riverdance, of Enya and U2, of traditional music and dance, of Irish writers and artists and of Irish film is something in which we can all take pride. I am delighted that the cultural traffic from Ireland to Japan will be busier than ever this year – with the celebrated Druid production of ‘Playboy of the Western World’ playing at the Tokyo Theatre Festival in March, the ‘Reel Ireland’ film festival visiting Japan in the autumn and a wealth of music, dance and literature events throughout the year.
Scores of Irish educators, engineers and craftsmen and women made a contribution to the building of modern Japan in the Meiji period – some receiving awards from the Emperor for their role. Irish missionaries and philanthropists have also played an important role in bridging the gulf of time and distance that, until so very recently, separated Japan and Ireland. In the field of education in particular, Irish missionaries have made an important contribution and, in the dark days of the Second World War, many remained in Japan to bring comfort to the Japanese people at that terrible time.
I like to think that their modern day equivalents are the hundreds of Irish JETs – young Irish men and women who travel to Japan as English teachers at the request of the Japanese Government – who in their own way act as ambassadors for Ireland across the length and breadth of Japan. Since Ireland joined the JET scheme in the 1980s, hundreds of Irish people have participated and I am delighted to see their numbers grow each year.
The Post -Primary Languages Initiative, launched under the Government’s National Development Plan 2003 -2006, has been instrumental in the increasing numbers of students learning Japanese in Ireland today: over 1800 in 62 post primary schools throughout the country. I am pleased to note that 51 students will sit Leaving Certificate Japanese this year and 179 are currently in Fifth Year.
Japan is home to the largest Irish community in Asia, as well as the oldest St Patrick’s Day parade in Asia. This year’s Tokyo parade – which will take the 50th anniversary as its theme - is in its sixteenth year and I am delighted that parades are now also held in the major cities of Japan. These parades, and the many Irish themed events are a testament to the strength of interest which Japanese people have in Ireland. This, together with the enthusiasm for Irish culture, literature and history, the growing number of Japanese visitors to Ireland every year and indeed the many young people who are growing up half Japanese, half Irish, reassure me that the relationship between Ireland and Japan rests on firm foundations. For the longer that I am in politics, the more I have realized the importance of personal relationships and contacts.
Just as individuals share values, so too do nations. Japan has long stood out in the Asia region as a beacon of democracy and respect for human rights. It is an important partner for Ireland and the EU, in cooperation for peace, security and the prosperity of the international community. In our relations with Japan, I believe it is clear these shared values give us a common perspective on many issues. This was particularly evident during my visit to Tokyo last May, during the wide-ranging and extremely fruitful exchange of views I had with my friend, Foreign Minister Taro Aso. Japan and Ireland share similar views on many issues and this provides a platform to enhance cooperation on the world stage in support of our shared objectives.
We both desire to see a nuclear-free world – Japan from its unique experience as the world’s only victim of an atomic attack and Ireland as the initiator and the first signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. We also hold a strong belief in the responsibility that successful economies have to assist our fellow men and women in developing countries.
Ireland also shares with Japan a deep commitment to the United Nations and to the rule of law as the only way to ensure international peace and security. I salute the constructive role which Japan plays both as a member of the UN and in other international and regional organizations in support of peace, security and development around the world – in areas such as the Balkans, the Middle East and elsewhere.
Japan clearly plays a significant role in the Asia region, in attempts to manage some serious tensions, conflicts and flash-points, arising both from current problems as well as legacies of the past.
With a view to improving regional relations, cooperation and stability, since coming to power Prime Minister Abe has prioritised the normalization of relations with neighbours China and Korea, a very welcome development indeed for which the Prime Minister - and Chinese and Korean leaders who responded positively to these overtures – are very much to be commended. These relationships are fundamentally important, in both economic and political terms, and we warmly welcome the recent renewal of dialogue at high political level.
Prime Minister Abe has made clear in various fora that Japan seeks to engage in active diplomacy not only in its national interest but in the interest of the region's peace and prosperity.
Japan continues to play a lead role in conflict prevention and resolution in the region. It has played an active role in the Six Party Talks on North Korea to address the most serious issue of the DPRK’s nuclear weapons programme, which threatens regional and international security. This is compounded by the tragedy of Japanese kidnapped by the North Koreans in the 1970s and 1980s. We have our own experience in Ireland of the pain, suffering and uncertainty endured by families of the disappeared. Ireland, together with our EU partners, strongly call on North Korea to dismantle its nuclear programme. Only renewed dialogue can resolve these issues, and – despite a disappointing start - I welcome the resumption last month of the six-party talks after a year’s hiatus.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Business and trade has always been central to the relationship between Japan and Ireland. From the late 1960’s Ireland sought to diversify and expand its foreign trade and looked to the countries of Asia for export markets and possible sources of inward investment. At that time, perhaps unsurprisingly given that Japan was beginning to emerge as an economic powerhouse, the balance of trade between Japan and Ireland was very much in Japan’s favour. Ireland’s main exports to Japan at the time were small-scale and mainly agricultural.
Over 30 years before Ireland’s hugely successful participation in the Aichi Expo in 2005, a previous Expo acted as a launch pad for the expansion of Irish trade with Japan.
Ireland’s participation in the 1970 Osaka Expo, which was made possible with the help of the then Japanese Ambassador to Ireland, Mr. Buschiki Hoshi, represented a turning point in our economic relationship with Japan. Business contacts made at Osaka significantly contributed to the expansion of commercial relations between our two countries throughout the 1970s. Trade expanded and, more significantly, a new profile of Irish exports to Japan began to emerge. From the late 1970s Irish firms, particularly in the chemical and agricultural sectors, successfully broke into the Japanese market, and Japan came to represent the most successful export market for Ireland in Asia.
The role of partners, such as the Irish Exporters Association, in this success cannot be underestimated.
The continued importance of Japan and other Asian markets is reflected in the Government’s Asia Strategy, first launched in 1999 and extended in 2005. The Asia Strategy seeks to increase our political, trade and investment ties with Japan and other Asian countries. Significant emphasis is being placed on increasing the capacity of Irish companies to trade in Asia and to maximize the potential for outward Foreign Direct Investment by Irish companies in Japan and other countries in the region.
Japan is a cornerstone of the Asia Strategy. Between 2003 and 2005, the Japanese market accounted for more than a third of all Irish exports to Asia. Of 100 Irish companies with a presence in Asia, over 30 are based in Japan. In an economy which still accounts for some 60% of total Asian GDP, there is huge potential to expand this investment. Major Irish companies like Glen Dimplex and Parc Aviation are leading the way with significant investments in the Japanese market.
Ireland is a gateway to Europe and America for a number of Japanese companies, and Japan is our 6th largest inward investor. The relationship is one of mutual benefit. The Government highly values Japanese investment in Ireland because of its superb employment record, its innovation and its loyalty. Japanese companies value Ireland’s knowledge economy and emphais is on research and innovation, its flexible and international workforce and the pro-business policies of Government.
I welcome the most recent new and expanded investments by Japanese companies including USCI Japan, Alps Ireland and Trend Micro.
Last year, I had the great honour to appoint Mr Kunio Takeda, one of Japan’s leading and most respected industrialists, to be Ireland’s Honorary Consul in Osaka. His company Takeda Pharmaceuticals has enjoyed 10 years of successful operations in Ireland. Mr Takeda’s decision to become our Honorary Consul is a vote of confidence in Ireland as a location for Japanese companies to do business, one which has not gone unnoticed in the business community.
In my view, there is now considerable potential to build on our strong business and trade relationship. I know that this view is strongly shared by the business community in Japan and Ireland. Last year’s re-launch of the Japan-Ireland Economic Association in Tokyo demonstrated the interest and enthusiasm of the Irish and Japanese business community in Japan in exploring new business and trade opportunities. Tonight, I am pleased to see among you representatives from across the spectrum of Irish business as well as representatives of many Japanese companies who share the same positive outlook for our business relationship.
The Irish Government, and its agencies IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and Tourism Ireland, both here and in Japan, will continue to do everything it can to promote business and trade. Last year, when Minister Roche, Minister Martin and paid visits to Japan, business was at the top of our agenda, and this will remain the case. The Government will also continue to listen closely to the views of the business community in both countries.
We are particularly aware of the importance which the business community attaches to people-to-people exchanges.
Facilitating the exchange of people is an important way of breaking down cultural barriers and of making Irish and Japanese people more familiar with each others culture and way of life, of overcoming the separation imposed by geography and history.
A number of people-to-people exchange schemes have been central to the development of links between Ireland and Japan over the years. I’ve already mentioned the importance of the JET scheme in this regard. Another important development was the introduction by FÁS in the 1980s of a programme to place Irish graduates in Japanese companies. Many of the FÁS alumni returned to Ireland, applying their experience in Irish and international companies. Many others remained in Japan to this day, and form the core of an increasingly vibrant Irish business community in Japan.
With the success of these schemes in mind, the Irish and Japanese Governments this year formally introduced the new Working Holiday Scheme. This programme will give 400 young Irish people, regardless of qualifications or work experience, a chance to live and work in Japan for up to a year. Crucially, for the first time, it also gives young Japanese people a chance to do the same in Ireland. There is already huge demand among Japanese young people to participate in this scheme, and I hope the members of the IJA will be able to offer their support to these participants.
The Government has also taken steps to implement practical measures specifically to assist the business community in moving people between Japan and Ireland.
Last year, the Japanese business community told us that they wanted an easier way to transfer people between Japan and Ireland; that’s why the Government re-introduced the Intra-company Transfer Scheme specifically for Japanese companies. The business community also tells us that the lack of a social security agreement between Japan and Ireland inhibits the movement of business people between the two countries, and so that is why the Irish Government has proposed to the Japanese Government that we sign such an agreement. You can be assured that the Government will continue to listen and respond positively to the Japan-Ireland business community on all issues.
We will also continue to work on these issues, and all other issues of concern to business, with our partners in the Japanese government. If nothing else, then perhaps our work on market access for beef might allow me to enjoy an Irish steak next time I visit Tokyo!
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Almost forty years ago, the late Jack Lynch remarked after an official visit to Japan that, although our two countries are separated by both distance and different historical experience, he saw promise for relations to develop between two peoples who, in my own view, share many qualities in common, not least a tradition of hospitality and an ability to embrace the modern whilst respecting the ancient roots of our respective cultures. Today we celebrate fifty years of relations and exchange between the Japanese and Irish peoples. In those years the bond of friendship have grown deeper and the range of contact and joint endeavour has grown wider than could possibly have been imagined.
It is my hope and indeed my firm conviction that this great flowering of relations will continue in the years ahead as our two peoples grow to learn both more from and of each other.
I would like to propose a toast:
to the continuing warm relations between Japan and Ireland;
to the continuing success and prosperity of our two island nations; and
to the health and happiness of all of us here tonight.