With the exchanging of letters between King Milan Obrenović and Emperor Meiji in 1882, official relations between Serbia and Japan were established – Takahiko Katsumata
There are no outstanding issues hampering relations between Japan and Serbia, says ambassador Takahiko Katsumata, speaking at the start of a year that marks the 140th anniversary of friendly relations between the two countries. And today our two countries continue to cooperate in responding to new regional and global challenges, “such as sustainable development, security and peacebuilding, climate change, pandemics, disaster management,” says Ambassador Katsumata in this interview for CorD Magazine.
Your Excellency, this year marks the 140th anniversary of the establishing of friendly relations between Japan and Serbia. How will you be commemorating this jubilee?
The two countries have a long history of friendly relations. With the exchanging of letters between King Milan Obrenović and Emperor Meiji in 1882, official relations between Serbia and Japan were established. I wish this year would be a great opportunity to make our bilateral relations stronger and intensify our ties, not only at the diplomatic level, but also in the fields of culture, the economy, education, grassroots development and so on.
We will organise various events in cooperation with Serbian partners to promote this anniversary, starting with the His Majesty the Emperor’s birthday in February. The Embassy of Serbia in Tokyo is also going to organise celebratory programmes in Japan. I hope that these events will attract many of the people of both countries and raise greater interest in our relationship.
What do you consider as the biggest current and future challenges confronting bilateral relations between our two countries?
Our relations have been continuously progressing and I don’t see any obstacles regarding bilateral relations. However, looking around us, there are many regional and global issues that we need to tackle together, such as sustainable development, security and peacebuilding, climate change, the pandemic, disaster management. I expect that our two countries will continue to work in good cooperation on these challenges and to offer each other a helping hand in our most difficult times in the future as well.
Let me remind readers that Japan extended economic and humanitarian assistance to Serbia immediately after Serbia’s most difficult times of the late 1990s, and that when Japan was struck by the Great East Japan Earthquake, just eleven years ago, the Serbian people gave us their warmest sympathies and support. I believe that these examples serve to prove our longstanding friendship and that this friendship continues in our generation, following a long line of generations.
Let me remind readers that Japan extended economic and humanitarian assistance to Serbia immediately after Serbia’s most difficult times of the late 1990s, and that when Japan was struck by the Great East Japan Earthquake, just eleven years ago, the Serbian people gave us their warmest sympathies and support
Serbian Foreign Minister Nikola Selaković has extended an invitation for Japanese officials and members of the imperial family to visit Serbia on the occasion of the anniversary. Is such a visit being considered?
We are grateful for the warm invitation from the Minister and the Serbian Government. We have witnessed that mutual, high-level visits can lead to an acceleration in promoting our relationship.
The is especially the case in recent years, with Prime Minister Abe’s 2018 visit to Serbia paving the way, through his summit meeting with President Vučić, to the further promoting of cooperative relations in many spheres. Following the Prime Minister’s visit, Foreign Minister Kono paid an official visit to Serbia in 2019, and during the same year Serbian Prime Minister Brnabić kindly attended the enthronement of His Majesty the Emperor of Japan. I wish for more such mutual, high-level visits to be realised in this commemorative year.
I would like to put all my mind and heart into making the 140th Anniversary of the Japan-Serbia Friendship a great year to reconfirm and strengthen our existing friendly bilateral relation.
How would you summarise your ambassadorial experiences during the period of restrictions imposed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic?
The previous years were indeed a challenging time for our diplomacy. Due to the ongoing pandemic, we have lost various opportunities for diplomatic activities – I had much fewer opportunities for face-to-face meetings with others or to visit local communities beyond Belgrade. We had to cancel many cultural events and receptions in order to avoid infections. However, we were gradually able to manage contacts with others via online platforms. The past couple of years have been a time for me to get used to the “new standards”, such as wearing masks, social distancing or disinfecting, as well as increased digital and online communications.
Japan and Serbia have been promoting our cooperation even during this time of the pandemic. Japan provided Serbia with medical equipment and tablets, and Serbia successfully launched mass vaccination not only for Serbian citizens, but also for foreign residents. With this opportunity in mind, I would like to express, on behalf of Japanese residents our gratitude to Serbia. Furthermore, both Serbia and Japan have been donating great amounts of doses of vaccine to other afflicted countries. The pandemic has deprived us of many things, but such humanitarian behaviour represents our new “ties” that emerged under these difficult conditions.
Japan’s Nidec Corporation began constructing its factory for the production of motors for electric vehicles in Novi Sad during December. Does this investment confirm serious interest in establishing business operations in Serbia among Japanese business leaders?
Nidec Corporation is a world-leading electric motor company with a very innovative approach and I am sure that its decision to establish a new production base in Serbia has a great impact in terms of the economy, employment, scientific technology and education, as well raising interest in Serbia as an investment destination among Japanese companies and investors.
Nidec held a ground-breaking ceremony in Novi Sad in December 2021, with President Vučić in attendance, following the April 2021 launch of its operations in Serbia. Since then, a great number of other Japanese companies have shown increasing interest in Serbia. In fact, nearly 300 people, mainly from Japanese companies, attended a seminar on investment in Serbia in May 2021, which was held jointly by the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Vienna office, the Development Agency of Serbia (RAS) and Mizuho Bank Ltd.
Some companies have subsequently visited Serbia, and one of the outcomes is that, in October 2021, “Nippon Express”, a major Japanese logistics company, established a new branch in Novi Sad.
Under the “Western Balkans Cooperation Initiative”, which was launched by Prime Minister Abe in 2018 and supports socioeconomic reforms toward EU accession in Serbia and other Western Balkan countries, the Government of Japan continues to promote investments of Japanese companies in the region.
Nidec Corporation is a worldleading electric motor company with a very innovative approach and I am sure that its decision to establish a new production base in Serbia has a great impact in terms of the economy, employment, scientific technology and education, as well raising interest in Serbia as an investment destination among Japanese companies and investors
Given the increasing concern among citizens when it comes to environmental issues, what would you cite as an operational precondition for the green economy of the future; and what could you say about the ecological standards of the Toyo Tires factory in Inđija, which is also a Japanese investment?
As mentioned earlier, Japan is supporting the socioeconomic reforms of Western Balkan countries toward EU accession, which naturally places an emphasis on high standards of environmental protection. Indeed, Japanese investments and economic cooperation have been aimed at environmental protection, such as the Flue Gas Desulfurization Construction Project for Thermal Power Plant Nikola Tesla and the Belgrade Energy-from-Waste Project in Vinča.
The plant that Toyo Tires is building in Inđija will be an automated factory with state-of-the-art technology that also adheres to various environmental standards. I would like to assure you that investments and economic cooperation coming from Japan will not only have an economic impact, but will also help to further improve the quality of life of Serbian citizens.
How much will the Convention on the avoidance of double taxation contribute to the strengthening of economic relations between Japan and Serbia?
Double taxation on the income of foreign companies is one of the negative business factors and there were increasing voices from our companies highlighting the necessity of a tax convention with Serbia to avoid such tax burdens. Following Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Serbia in 2018, both governments started negotiations and the Tax Convention finally entered into force on 5th December 2021.
I am very glad to say that, thanks to the application of this Convention, the tax rates on incomes like dividends, interest payments and royalties will be reduced considerably or even abolished completely. I am convinced that the entry into force of this Convention will be of great significance to ensuring smoother and more efficient business circumstances for Japanese companies operating in Serbia. I also hope that this new rule-making could trigger new investments from Japan. In corporation with the Serbian Government, Japan continues to promote a better business environment and legal frameworks between our two countries.
Japan has been a major donor to Serbia for decades, with a significant share of that aid having been allocated as support to local governments. Do you plan to continue that form of support?
Japan’s economic development cooperation with Serbia is aimed at supporting the promotion of high-quality economic growth in Serbia. In this sense, “high quality” means, for instance, sustainable, efficient, with an environmentally-friendly impact and contributing to the betterment of society and the life of the people. Based on this perception, Japan has been providing various kinds of assistance in three main areas: Private Sector Development, Environmental Protection, and the Improvement of Economic and Social Services.
In a particular endeavour to improve economic and social services, the Government of Japan is supporting efforts to reduce the disparity in economic and social services between urban and rural areas. Japan will continue to support Serbia’s efforts to achieve sustainable economic growth and EU accession.
JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency), which has its regional headquarters in Belgrade, is now implementing financial support for the environmental project of the Nikola Tesla Thermal Power Plant and technical cooperation for the Project for the Modernisation of Public Urban Transport in the City of Belgrade, as well as various capacity building programmes.
The Embassy of Japan has been implementing more than 200 grassroots projects and the human security grants programme all over Serbia. These projects cover areas such as donations of medical equipment for local healthcare institutions, school supplies for primary schools and nurseries, renovations of schools, hospital buildings and other facilities for the elderly, disabled persons and local minorities.
Japan will further continue these various assistance projects in accordance with the priorities of Serbia and the needs or interests of its people. We wish to implement useful and impressive projects which will, like the “Yellow Buses” in Belgrade, be symbols of our friendship.
Japanese investments and economic cooperation have been aimed at environmental protection, such as the Flue Gas Desulfurization Construction Project for Thermal Power Plant Nikola Tesla and the Belgrade Energyfrom- Waste Project in Vinča
You are known as one of the Japanese ambassadors in our country who has presented to the general public not only Japanese culture, but also traditional Japanese cuisine.
Japanese cuisine, especially sushi, is now one of the most popular cuisines in the world, with many attractive elements like healthiness, handiness and the taste of freshness, all of which have been created in the scope of the Japanese lifestyle.
Given that food is one of the most important tools to understand the characteristics of a country’s culture, the Embassy of Japan places a priority on our food culture programme, in order to provide the Serbian people with more casual opportunities to understand our culture and its roots. Thanks to the help of my enthusiastic Japanese chef, we have now started introducing some “You Can Do” recipes of popular Japanese food on our social media profiles, such as Facebook and Instagram. Fortunately, we always enjoy lots of positive reactions from our Serbian followers.
The Embassy of Japan grants scholarships to students from Serbia who are interested in studying the Japanese language and culture, but also other fields of study. Are you satisfied with the level of interest in Japan among young people in Serbia?
I am very glad to see many young people in Serbia recognising Japan as a desirable destination for their further education. Keeping young people attracted and interested in Japan and its culture is essential to continuously building mutual understanding and friendship in the generations to come.
Under the scholarship programme of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), the Japanese Government offers different types of scholarships for Serbian students. Every year, the Embassy of Japan in Serbia receives a significant number of applications from students throughout Serbia. Some Japanese companies are also offering support programmes for Serbian youngsters to study Japan.
Interest in learning the Japanese Language in Serbia is evident, and there is also an increasing trend of studying various Japanese subjects, such as traditional arts, architecture, economics, politics, mechanical engineering and more. I expect such efforts and enthusiasm of the Serbian students who are studying Japan could provide a strong impetus to enhancing mutual exchanges and understanding between our two countries. We would like to continue offering good opportunities for Serbian students to study any field related to Japan.
I would like to put all my mind and heart into making the 140th Anniversary of the Japan- Serbia Friendship a great year to reconfirm and strengthen our existing friendly bilateral relation
Nidec held a ground-breaking ceremony in Novi Sad in December 2021, with President Vučić in attendance, following the April 2021 launch of its operations in Serbia
Japan is supporting the socioeconomic reforms of Western Balkan countries toward EU accession, which naturally places an emphasis on high standards of environmental protection