Monday marks the second anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake. The earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastated northern Japan. The anniversary is a time for Japan to remember those affected and to assess the recovery efforts, looking at both physical and emotional damage to see what remains to be healed.
A tremendous effort has already been made towards reconstruction but much still remains to be done.
The Australian government and people provided great support and encouragement in the immediate aftermath of the disaster and over time. One of the greatest tragedies was the number of children who lost parents. Around 1500 lost one parent and 200 lost both. Australians have been raising money for such children and many children from the affected areas have been enjoying the opportunity to visit Australia. Thanks to the warm hospitality of Australian people, these children have become less inward-looking and are taking the first step towards a brighter future. Japan will never forget the help and friendship so freely given by Australians.
The generosity of Australians in response to March 2011 has added another page to the Japan-Australia story. Since my appointment as consul-general in Sydney in May 2010, I have come to realise just what an interesting and rewarding story it is. It stretches back further than many people would be aware.
Diplomatic ties reach back more than a century. The first Japanese diplomatic mission was a consulate established in 1896 in Townsville. The following year, when a regular shipping service between Yokohama and Sydney commenced, a consulate was established in Sydney. This was soon upgraded, with the first consul-general appointed in 1906.
Remembering our shared history, including difficult times, is an important part of our relationship. Last year marked the 70th anniversary of the Japanese midget submarine attack on Sydney Harbour, and I attended several commemorative events in Sydney, as well as annual remembrances in Cowra and Darwin. In a sense, these ceremonies have come to be symbols of our reconciliation and friendship as we reflect on our past, present and future.
Last year also marked another significant anniversary – the 50th Anniversary of the Japan-Australia Joint Business Conference was held in Sydney. For most of the past five decades, Japan has been Australia’s largest trading partner. Australia has long had a trade surplus with Japan, higher than any other country. Japan is also a significant investor in Australia, far surpassing other Asian countries. I was present at the FID signing early last year for the US$34 billion Ichthys LNG project undertaken by INPEX in Darwin which is the largest investment ever made by any Japanese company in Australia. Japanese companies’ investments and business activities are not only in the mining sector. They have diversified to include a wide range of industries, including food, beverages, machinery, power generation, water, engineering, housing development, insurance, asset management and banking. Japanese banks have increased their funding to the Australian financial market, taking up slack as European banks withdraw funds.
With a new political administration in Japan after the elections at the end of last year, it is to be hoped that the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between Japan and Australia will be concluded as soon as possible so as to propel our already strong relationship to a new level and open a door to new opportunities.
Japan and Australia not only share important economic relations; our strategic partnership has grown to be a significant part of our relationship. The importance of our strategic partnership was shown by the fact that the new Japanese Foreign Minister Kishida chose to visit Australia during his first official trip overseas. As the regional power balance changes, our strategic partnership should be promoted on the basis of our shared basic values and the rule of law which should be the foundation of peace and stability within the regional framework. The Japan-Australia relationship is already a win-win for us; I believe it has the potential to be a ‘win-win-WIN’ as Japan and Australia cooperate and use this new partnership to benefit the Asia-Pacific region.
We must never forget the true foundations of our partnership. Personal ties and networks have built up trust over years and this underpins the Japan-Australia relationship. Japan and Australia share 6 sister-state (including Tokyo-NSW), 103 sister-city, 8 sister-port and numerous sister-school relationships. More than 500,000 people travelled between our countries for study, work or pleasure over the last year. I am very pleased that Premier O’Farrell is planning to make his first official visit to Japan in 2013.
This year is the 50th anniversary of the first-ever sister-city agreement between a Japanese and Australian town – between Yamato-Takada and Lismore. It is now one of 39 in NSW.
To coincide with the anniversary, this year has been designated the ‘Japan-Australia Tourism Exchange Year’. I hope many Australians visit Japan to enjoy its nature, traditional culture, onsen (hot springs), cuisine and skiing. Japan is safe to visit. In fact, the radiation level in Tokyo is one the lowest of major cities around the world.
Tokyo Metropolitan Government has announced its candidacy for the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics. Holding the Games in Tokyo would be a great focus for all Japan to revive spirits and show the world how resilient Japan is and what the Japanese people can achieve.
The Japan-Australia relationship has developed into a multifaceted partnership which is exceptionally solid and full of potential. Let’s work together to make this partnership achieve even more in the future.
Masahiro Kohara is the Consul-General of Japan in Sydney.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.