Belarus and Japan celebrated the 30th anniversary of the establishment of formal diplomatic relations in January. However, the history of the Belarusian-Japanese co-operation has much deeper roots: our compatriots Iosif and Yelizaveta Goshkevich arrived in the distant and unknown Land of the Rising Sun with a diplomatic and humanitarian mission almost 200 years ago. Moreover, that is what can be considered a real starting point for the beginning of the friendship between Belarusians and Japanese. Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Belarus to Japan Ruslan Yesin discussed in an interview with SB. Belarus Segodnya. Trends the way our countries are cooperating today, being separated by almost eight thousand kilometres, but still having common ground:
— The history of bilateral achievements, like the history of friendship, also extends far beyond the thirty-year mark. We had many significant events, which became the basis for the development of many areas of co-operation.
Back in the 1970s, a delegation from the city of Sendai came to Minsk with a friendship visit, and it was an important impulse for contacts back then. By the way, next year Minsk and Sendai will celebrate the half-century anniversary of twinning.
In the mid-1980s, our compatriot, a well-known member of the partisan movement, an outstanding statesman and diplomat Pyotr Abrassimov headed the Soviet embassy in Japan. A significant event for the development of Belarusian-Japanese friendship was the holding of the first Days of Belarusian Culture in Japan during his diplomatic mission.
In early 1991, a delegation of the BSSR was in Japan to establish co-operation on mitigating the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster. In addition, under the programme of the Japanese government Grass-Roots Human Security Projects, our country is still receiving material and technical assistance for the affected regions. The visit of the President of Belarus Aleksandr Lukashenko to the Winter Olympics in Nagano in 1998 was a truly epochal event.
In 2021, the office of the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Belarus was opened in the city of Hakodate, Hokkaido. This is indeed one of our most important achievements.
The symbolic bridges connecting our country and Japan are the capsules containing soil from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, laid in July 2021 in the All Saints Memorial Church in Minsk, as well as the Belarusian potash mineral, transferred to the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum in November last year.
Unfortunately, the frequency of communications has been significantly decreasing amid the pandemic. In any case, no forced breaks will stop the peoples of the two countries from further promotion of dialogue.
— How did trade co-operation develop between Belarus and Japan in 2021? — I believe that the main achievements with Japan have been made precisely in the economic direction. The Japanese market is top-grade and demanding, but nevertheless our products are competitive there.
Just look how the dynamics of deliveries of Belarusian exporters’ products have changed since the opening of the Belarusian diplomatic mission in Tokyo.
While in 1995 our exports amounted to 937.6 thousand dollars, by the end of 2021 we expect an amount of more than 16 million dollars.
In tough times of 2021, we managed to hold about 30 presentations, as well as organise the Belarus-Hokkaido forum in a hybrid format, which became the first major regional event after a long quarantine period.
In 2022, we will focus on further work to develop the legal framework governing bilateral economic relations.
In co-operation with Japan, we plan to pay additional attention to the development of specific projects to promote wooden houses, leather and textile products, food, and jewellery. We plan to continue negotiations between scientific organisations in the field of space exploration, bio- and nanotechnologies. — Despite the pandemic, the Belarusians and the Japanese continued to maintain business contacts and make ambitious plans. Did the Belarusian-Japanese Business Club, established in 2020, have a big hand in this? — The Belarusian-Japanese Business Club provides serious assistance in the development of bilateral relations. This is particularly evident at the regional level. Thus, in 2021, in co-operation with the National Centre for Marketing and Price Study, a visit of a Japanese business mission to Belarus was organised. Japanese businessmen learned about the activities of the National Marketing Centre and the capabilities of the export.by portal, took part in an expanded meeting of Belarusian exporting enterprises interested in promoting their products to the Japanese market. The businesspersons visited a number of enterprises that are part of the Bellegprom (Belarusian Light Industry Concern) and Belgospischeprom (Belarusian Food Industry Concern), held a meeting at the National Investment Agency.
At this stage, the Belarusian-Japanese Business Club is more of a communication centre allowing to quickly distribute the proposals of Belarusian exporters in Japan. Members of the club have already submitted a number of proposals on new formats of work to Belarusian partners, and I hope that in the near future we will see the launch of interesting joint projects.
— During your diplomatic tenure in Japan, the number of shops offering products from Belarus to the Japanese increased rapidly. What Belarusian goods are particularly in demand among the inhabitants of the Land of the Rising Sun? — Over the past five years, the embassy has paid special attention to increasing the presence of our goods on the shelves of Japanese stores.
There are dairy products, linen fabrics and manufactures, as well as other goods. The Japanese are especially fond of our butter and cheeses for their natural flavour, the highest quality and a competitive price compared to other similar products. I believe that it is time for our exporters to think about opening a brand shop in Tokyo.
In my opinion, the most effective and time-tested way to achieve this is to co-operate with Japanese businesspersons in developing trading companies. Taking into account demand and existing trends, the opening of a kind of ‘warehouse-showroom’ for products of the Belarusian light, food, alcohol and woodworking industries may be indeed timely. — Environmental problems significantly affect both the state of the planet and humankind. In recent years, the Belarusian leadership has taken many important steps in this area. Can ecological projects become one of the key sectors of co-operation with Japan? — Indeed, our country pays considerable attention to the issues of environmental protection and nature management. I recently met with the Governor of Ibaraki Prefecture Kazuhiko Ōigawa, who highly appreciates the results of the work of Belarusians in overcoming the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster and expresses interest in co-operation with our country in this direction. Our Japanese partners are interested in the Belarusian experience in the development of ecological tourism in specially protected natural areas, the area of which exceeds 1.8 million hectares and continues to grow. The Embassy actively uses the format of meetings with residents of various Japanese prefectures and cities, as well as media representatives in order to inform about the tourism potential of our country and existing plans to create ecotourism clusters in Belarus.
In Japan, the industry for the processing and disposal of solid domestic and industrial waste, water purification, rearing of fry and the use of other high-tech solutions is developed at a top-level, which, of course, is of high interest to our specialists and scientific researchers. In general, I consider the ecological direction to be very promising, and we will make efforts to expand bilateral co-operation in this area.