In 2014, Japanese diplomat Naoto Nikai took over as his country’s ambassador to Chile at a time both countries were strengthening efforts to build closer cooperation. In fact, Nikai assumed his post just after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was to pay an important official visit to the South American country.
Recently, GMI sat down with the Japanese ambassador to discuss the shared history and the future of relations between Japan and Chile as the two countries mark more than a century of friendship.
GMI: What were your priorities when you became ambassador in 2014?
Ambassador Nikai: Japan and Chile have enjoyed a very good relationship dating back to the Treaty of Friendship in 1897. This has continued to expand in terms of diplomacy and cooperation. When I arrived here, Prime Minister Abe just completed his visit. I wanted to follow through on the results of his visit and explore every possible way to expand our collaboration.
GMI: How has Prime Minister Abe’s visit affected Japanese-Chilean relations?
Nikai: The visit covered a very wide range of cooperation. Chile and Japan enjoy a lot of values, such as freedom, democracy and rule of law. In that sense, we have collaborated in various international forums like the United Nations on issues like human rights, nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.
The second aspect is on our economic relationships. Chile is very rich in natural resources, such as copper, fishery and forestry. Those are the main reasons we have strong economic ties in mining and aquaculture, among other things.
GMI: Where are the economic ties between the two countries most apparent?
Nikai: Chile has observed very prudent economic and fiscal policies. It has maintained a very open economic policy and signed free trade agreements with countries like Japan. Chile also emphasizes the importance of the Asia Pacific region as shown by its active involvement in APEC. Based on that, Chile has nurtured a business friendly atmosphere.
Chile also is the largest supplier of copper to Japan. Aside from copper, it also exports molybdenum, lithium, salmon and wines. I have heard that in Japan, Chile has surpassed France as the top exporter of wine to Japan.
GMI: Where would you like to see more involvement?
Japan exports a lot of products to Chile, such as automobiles and industrial machinery. The Japanese have very large investments also in the mining sector. My country has been the largest investor here between 2011 and 2013. This shows how important Chile is to Japan as an economic partner.
Apart from economic ties, we enjoy good academic exchanges between our universities, such as the Universidad de Chile and the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. This is especially the case in astronomy. San Pedro de Atacama is the base camp of the ALMA Observatory, which is managed by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan. The University of Tokyo is in the process of constructing a new observatory there.
Another area I need to mention is in the area of natural disasters. Unfortunately, Japan and Chile share a common vulnerability to earthquakes and tsunamis. We have had very strong collaboration in this area: the exchange of people, equipment, knowledge and technical expertise on the private and the government-to-government level.
As we celebrate the 120th anniversary of diplomatic ties, 2017 will be a good year to review our relationships and strengthen this further.
There are certain areas that are very promising, such as ICT. Chile adopted the Japanese terrestrial distribution system and through that, we have had good collaboration. We have more potential in areas like the utilization of satellite communication. As I have said, Chile is vulnerable to natural disasters. So, Japanese technology has a lot to contribute to in saving lives.
Other areas are the environment and energy. Everybody is aware of the issue of global warming and so in that regard, there are a lot of opportunities to utilize Japanese technology in order to reduce our carbon footprint. Last year, the Japanese government concluded an agreement with the Chilean government that will provide a framework to facilitate the transfer of technology from Japan to Chile to reduce greenhouse gases.
GMI: As we move closer to 2017, what excites you about next year?
Nikai: I sense a strong momentum to celebrate the coming years. I hope to see various cultural events.
Another potential field for collaboration is in food and trade. There’s a big opportunity to expand the exports of Japanese food to Chile. A growing number of Chilean people appreciate Japanese cuisine. In the future, there’s a good potential to bring Japanese food and culture to this country.
Tourism is another area of great opportunity. I wish Chileans would get to know Japan more. I hope to see more exchanges of people between our two countries, not only in tourism but also in youth exchanges. Considering that Japan is far away, I think the exchange of people should even be more important.
GMI: What message do you have for our readers in Japan and in Chile?
Nikai: Japan can offer a lot to Chile in various ways. Because Chile places a high importance on innovation, Japan can contribute a lot in this area. Japan has made a lot of contributions to the social and economic development of Chile and we wish to strengthen this relationship for many more years to come.