“Dear friend” – this is how Japanese Emperor Meiji addressed Serbian King Milan I Obrenović in his letter of 27th September 1882, which was a response to the letter sent by King Milan in March of that same year. This message and correspondence between the two sovereigns marked the start of relations and the friendship between the two countries, the 140th anniversary of which we are commemorating this year
The two countries and nations had very different historical and development paths. While historians dubbed Serbia a “house in the middle of the road”, Japan long applied a policy of self-isolation. Serbia often suffered invasions from conquerors, while Japan remained unconquered during that period.
However, these differences, coupled with a great geographical distance exceeding 9,000 kilometres and a mutual lack of information about theothernation, didn’tdiscouragefuturecontacts.
According to some archival sources, it is highly likely that Belgrade was visited by Emperor Meiji’s cousin Prince Yorihito Komatsu (1893), Duke Konoe Atsumaro (1899), Prince Kuni Kuniyoshi, the grandfather of future Emperor Akihito (1909) and Prince Takamatsu, the brother of Emperor Hirohito Shōwa. Belgrade was also visited in 1976 by the future Emperor Akihito, then heir to the throne. We are hopeful that his descendants will be in a position to amplify the importance of this great anniversary by visiting Serbia.
The foundations of the friendship between our two peoples are firmly grounded in the spirit of solidarity during difficult moments of suffering caused by war and natural disasters. Already by World War I, the Japanese people – via their Committee for Aid to Serbia – provided assistance to support our country and army. In 1999, the then ambassador of Japan also opted to remain resident in Belgrade despite the NATO bombs falling on the city. Japan has also provided an impressive level of development assistance to our country since 1999, to date totalling more than half a billion euros.
When a devastating earthquake hit Japan in 2011, Serbia’s embassy continued to operate, while Serbian citizens back home raised significant donations amounting to approximately 2.3 million dollars, thanks to which we were among the top 20 donor counties. Additionally, financial humanitarian aid from Serbia to help Japan recover from the great floods of July 2018, totalling half a million euros, represented the only donation from a European country. For its part, Japan donated around seven million euros following the floods that hit our country, while it also provided assistance to resolve the migrant crisis and combat the Covid-19 epidemic in Serbia. The solidarity that the two nations have shown during critical moments must also be nurtured in the future, as a key segment of our bilateral relations and mutual respect.
As a stable and legally regulated country that has developed potentials and incentives for foreign investments, Serbia is also increasingly attractive for investors from Japan. Around 30 Japanese companies do business in our country in some form, while the number of direct investment projects from Japan is also increasing gradually, which makes us particularly proud.
The current momentum of political dialogue between our two countries was driven by the successful visit of then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Serbia in January 2018. The October 2019 enthronement of Emperor Naruhito was also attended by Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić. It was also a great honour for me to have the opportunity to participate in the 14th UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, held in Kyoto in March 2021, as one of the online panellists. We also held very content-rich and useful political consultations between the two ministries last autumn, at the level of assistant ministers and conducted in video format, this time hosted by Japan. We are also very much looking forward to Serbia’s participation in the 2025 World Expo in Osaka.
I am certain that the word “friend”, which marked the launch of diplomatic communication between the two countries at the highest level, but also overall relations between Serbia and Japan ever since, will also be the main characteristic of our future cooperation.