"The World and Japan" Database (Project Leader: TANAKA Akihiko)
Database of Japanese Politics and International Relations
National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS); Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia (IASA), The University of Tokyo

[Title] Message from Mr. Masahiko Koumura, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan On the Occasion of the Fifteenth Summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)

[Place] Colombo (Sri Lanka)
[Date] August 2, 2008
[Source] Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan
[Full text]

It gives me great pleasure that the fifteenth SAARC Summit has come to be convened through the leadership of our Chair, His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and the eminently capable preparations of the Government of Sri Lanka.

South Asia enjoys rich potential, and "connectivity" will be necessary to bring that latent potential to fruition. At the same time, examining this from a different perspective, South Asia also has obstacles preventing the region from realizing its potential. The points I wish to share with you have already been discussed among yourselves at SAARC and an understanding has been reached.

One testament is the fact that it was SAARC itself that stated it had transitioned from the "declaration phase" to the "implementation stage" of its objectives. I hope that you will regard my message as one from a close friend. I would like to underscore my firm belief that what SAARC needs is to come together in a project, thereby generating a shared experience of success.

What SAARC has in the greatest abundance in terms of its potential is also what will prove to be the most valuable in your future growth. This is something that I understand will be discussed during the Summit Meeting: namely, energy, particularly the development of electricity resources and the potential for cooperation in this area.

With South Asia home to the rugged mountain range referred to as the "roof of the world," it is only fitting that there is extraordinary untapped potential in generating electricity through water power. I understand that by harnessing water power there is the potential to generate some six times the electricity currently being produced. In addition I am aware that in recent years natural gas too has finally found a place in the spotlight.

If one comes from a country lacking in natural resources, there is bound to be a twinge of envy at the latent potential enjoyed by South Asia. I know that everyone attending the Summit also envisions how the daily lives of the people of this region will change when this potential comes to be realized.

Moreover, it appears that the urgency of this matter has suddenly begun to intensify. It can be said that there is not a moment to lose for South Asia to utilize the electricity resources found in such abundance here, considering for one thing its ongoing population expansion, particularly its urban population explosion, as well as the soaring prices in global energy markets. Taking this from a different angle, it can also be said that South Asia has come upon favorable conditions for development that appear only rarely in the course of history.

Now is the time to reinforce this "connectivity" of which we speak. Especially in the case of electricity resources, the efficiency of use will be affected dramatically depending on how much "connectivity" has been achieved, and by that I mean, how tightly you weave your network.

The obstacles hampering connectivity are found neither in the mountain ranges that touch the clouds nor in the bottomless gorges. Instead, to borrow from the discussions of past SAARC Summits, they exist in the "mindsets" held within the SAARC member states. If SAARC succeeds in lowering that barrier even a little, your efforts will bear fruit far beyond cooperation in electricity and resources. I believe that it will contribute enormously to the advancement of regional cooperation as a whole and truly unshackle South Asia's tremendous latent potential. Additionally, I am convinced it will lead to a strengthening of the economic relationship between Japan and SAARC.

Fortunately, I would assert that a current has now begun to flow in South Asia leading each country, and indeed this entire subregion, to stability. Those small currents are finally starting to converge, to someday make a great river.

For examples we need look no further than what has been underway here in 2008. With Bhutan, Pakistan, and Nepal having held elections, they are bringing maturation to democratic rule. Incidentally, Japan dispatched election observation missions to all three of these countries. In the case of Nepal, we dispatched arms monitors to the United Nations political mission in Nepal (UNMIN). This July, I sent Mr. Osamu Uno, Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, on a mission to Kathmandu, where he conveyed first hand Japan's policy of support for Nepal's nation-building.

The Maldives and Bangladesh will also be holding elections soon, and Japan will spare no efforts in supporting these two countries to back their endeavors towards the consolidation of democracy. I was able to convey this policy towards Bangladesh directly to Dr. Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, Adviser for Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh, during his visit to Japan this past February.

Japan as a "Peace Fostering Nation" is moving forward under a national policy of becoming a creator of peace in the world. When I visited Pakistan and Afghanistan this past May, I stated to the Governments of those two countries that Japan would provide support to the maximum extent possible. At the G8 Hokkaido-Toyako Summit and the G8 Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Kyoto, which Japan hosted, we succeeded in formulating policies whereby the G8 will give greater attention to Afghanistan and Pakistan. As for Sri Lanka, efforts to bring about a lasting peace are moving forward one step at a time. Japan remains steadfast in the policy it has pursued thus far of providing considerable support for these efforts.

As a neighbor of South Asia, Japan wishes strongly for this subregion to succeed in attaining stability. In the journey now underway towards that very goal, the magnitude of India's role cannot be overstated. Cooperation with India is also of critical importance to Japan. There is simply no question that connectivity will be greatly enhanced if the region successfully pursues peacebuilding, the consolidation of peace, and the attainment of political and social stability. Actions to foster stability reinforce connectivity, while efforts to strengthen connectivity also facilitate peacebuilding, the consolidation of peace, and regional stability. In this way, we can say that each of these factors serves as a catalyst inducing the other, and in combination yield positive synergistic effects.

For this reason, any step towards greater connectivity, no matter how small, will certainly not be made in vain.

This past June, Japan convened a symposium in Islamabad on the theme of "energy and connectivity." This Japan-SAARC Symposium produced valuable recommendations concerning priority areas for future engagement. More significantly, the participants noted that this symposium also had the effect of making the necessity of intraregional dialogue even more pronounced. With that firmly in mind, Japan looks forward to the opportunity to promote intraregional dialogues into the future by continuing this type of symposium through the participation of all those concerned, most notably the SAARC member states.

In addition, I would like to promote people-to-people exchanges between Japan and SAARC across the entire range of levels, from experts to graduate students, university students, and high school students.

Currently, we invite to Japan annually about 20 or perhaps 30 resources and energy experts and water utilization and disaster reduction engineers from SAARC countries. Japan intends to strengthen these efforts even further in the future. Japan will also invite around 70 people, such as teachers in South Asia who are promoting the Japanese language and those who are overflowing with enthusiasm to learn Japanese, to provide them with opportunities to deepen their studies.

Another area that we hope to enhance in a similar way is that of intellectual exchanges between Japan and SAARC in the area of higher education. From this fiscal year we will be launching a program through which in total approximately 30 graduate students in science and technology fields will be invited to Japan from SAARC countries. During their two-week stay in Japan they will visit various research institutions and interact with Japanese researchers. Moreover, beginning from this fiscal year, we are planning for some 80 university and graduate students from the SAARC member states to experience internships at universities and companies in Japan.

The Government of Japan is also eager to make an investment in the future leaders of SAARC, and thereby inviting to Japan high school students from every country in South Asia. Forty high school students came to Japan during 2007. This year, we will be inviting to Japan 10 students from each SAARC member state, for a total of 80 participants. Over their two-week stay, the participants will be living with local families all around Japan and interacting with high school students of the same age.

Japan intends to enhance these invitation programs with the main objective to have these participants gathered from all around the SAARC region to come together and share a sense of being "alumni." Above all, in inviting specialists in the fields of resources and energy, we will endeavor to have these SAARC experts participate in intense discussions among themselves and enjoy enriching experiences.

It is my strong wish for Japan to become a place of meaningful opportunities for SAARC-that is, to make Japan a place for SAARC's practitioners, scientists, and scientists of the future, as well as SAARC's leaders 20 years into the future, to share and experience in common numerous discoveries, surprises, joys, and even at times difficulties. More than anything, Japan wishes to present them with the opportunity to develop long-lasting friendships and come to understand each other better through free and vigorous discussions among themselves. Nothing could make us happier than to serve as the catalyst for slightly lowering those inner barriers still found within SAARC while bringing forth a mindset conducive to developing South Asia's rich potential.

It is this Association itself that has stated that SAARC has entered the implementation stage of its objectives. It was 15 years ago in 1993 that Japan launched the SAARC-Japan Special Fund. Since that time, Japan has been single-mindedly focused on assisting SAARC in its development. For us, there is nothing that heartens us more than this transition to implementation. Japan will continue to be a nation upon which you can depend as you undertake your efforts for regional growth.