Japanese Ambassador to Georgia: Aiming to Develop Cultural & Economic Ties

Exclusive Interview

Georgia and Japan have a special relationship. Since Georgia’s independence from the Soviet Union, the cooperation between the two nations has been ever increasing, not only politically but economically and culturally, too. Indeed, Japan has had a two-tier Grassroots Grant Projects scheme active in Georgia since 1998, part of the Official Development Assistance (ODA) financial aid offered by the Japanese government for the development of projects initiated by local communities, with the goal of fulfilling diverse communal needs at the grassroots level. As the Embassy website explains, “Funding is provided for not-profit organizations such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and local authorities on a project basis. By making the financial support more open to the grassroots level, those people in marginalized or any other disadvantaged groups receive a genuine contribution for immediate improvement of their living conditions”.

The project is divided into two parts: 1) Grant Assistance for Grassroots Human Security Grant Projects (GGP) and 2) Grant Assistance for Grassroots Cultural Grant Projects (GCGP). The former aims to ensure “basic "Human Security" through the implementation of projects of various types and necessity in Georgia… [by empowering] people and communities and addressing the basic human needs in such fields as Primary Healthcare, Primary Education, Agriculture, Social Protection, Poverty Alleviation, and any other field related to basic human needs”.

GCGP provides “nonrefundable financial assistance to support the implementation of cultural, sport and higher education projects conducted by non-profit organizations…that are active at Georgia’s grassroots level.” So, not only does GCGP directly support the promotion of culture and higher education in Georgia, it also fulfils the function of a cooperation mechanism, encouraging understanding and cultural exchanges with Japan.

The Grant Assistance can be used only for financing: construction/reconstruction/rehabilitation of buildings/infrastructures serving as improved security conditions for vulnerable groups; procurement of equipment of vital importance; and “soft components" such as capacity building, training for beneficiaries and NGO staff (for GGP only). It cannot be used for financing salaries or any other administration/utility costs of the applicant organization, conferences, studies, invited experts, purchase of land, personal vehicles, office electronics, livestock or plant seedlings, rent or any other kind of utility cost, operating and maintenance costs of facilities and equipment, or consumables or multiple small items that are hard to track and monitor.

To get an idea of the extent to which the Grant Assistance project has blossomed in Georgia, it is worth looking at the facts and figures in the GGP sector. Over the last two decades, 157 grassroots initiatives have been financed, with the total investment reaching $15,837,878 at the end of the 2016 Fiscal year. By 2014, the bulk of the grants had been awarded to education and healthcare related projects: 56 projects totalling $3,897,685 for the former; 26 projects at $2,252,863 for the latter. Examples of the projects that Japan has assisted in this capacity include: ‘Rehabilitation of the Hospital for IDPs from Abkhazia in Tbilisi’ (2010); ‘The Project for Improvement of Medical Center in Zugdidi City’ (2012); ‘The Project for Improvement of the Georgia Red Cross Primary Health Clinic in Rustavi City of Kvemo Kartli Region’ (2013); and ‘The Project for Explosive Remnants of War and Mine Clearance in the Area of Administrative Boundary Line with Tskhinvali Region’ (2016).

To find out more about Japan-Georgia relations, GEORGIA TODAY went to meet the Ambassador of Japan to Georgia.

Mr. Tadaharu Uehara has a background in the insurance and re-insurance industry, providing insurance solutions to multinational companies in which he worked for over three-decades. Now the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to Georgia, he says he is enjoying his new position, which he has held since August 1, as well as the country he is now positioned in.

“Georgia’s natural beauty is extremely impressive, along with the country’s mesmerizing, rich, and very complex history and culture. Georgian hospitality is special; in my short time here, I’ve had many great and pleasant experiences with it. I believe that the warmth of hospitality is a common value that is shared between our two countries; even though the format or style of the hospitality is pretty different. I love Georgian hospitality and I hope that most of the Georgian people share the same positive attitude towards Japanese hospitality.”

What is the history of Japan’s relationship with Georgia? Tell us about the projects you have cooperated on politically, economically, and culturally, as well as the ones that you are collaborating on now

The most important thing to make note of, and something we always reiterate, is that our countries share common values like democracy and the rule of law. This is the bottom line of our relationship. Japan has always supported Georgia in its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

We established diplomatic relations in 1992, and the Japanese Embassy in Tbilisi opened in 2009. In 2014, Georgia’s President visited Japan, with his visit being well received by the Japanese public, and this year Japan hosted Georgia’s Foreign Minister in June, and Japanese Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs made a reciprocal visit to Tbilisi later that month. We would like to promote more high-level exchanges and visits between the two countries.

In terms of economy, it’s important to emphasize that Japan is one of the largest donors to Georgia in terms of cumulative ODA for its economic growth, behind the large international organizations like the World Bank.

Japan’s ODA has focused on two areas: improving the economic infrastructure and the people’s standards of living in Georgia. I’m proud of the Japanese government’s long-term involvement and investment in supporting Georgia. Trade-wise, Japanese exports to Georgia amount to $150 million in 2016, but Georgian exports to Japan are relatively smaller, worth only $11 million.

How can we balance out those figures?

I want to promote Georgian exports like wine and agriculture products to Japan and increase the number of Japanese tourists to Georgia by introducing the power of its natural resources and beauty, and by stimulating Japanese private business investments in this country.

How do the recent hostile developments in North Korea affect Tokyo’s foreign policy and its ability to continue its FDI projects across the globe?

I don’t think the issue in and with North Korea is related to Japan’s political and economic relationship with Georgia. It really is a separate issue. What we would like to do with Georgia is to support the country, and jointly contribute to the security and the prosperity in the international community.

What are your visions for future cooperation with Georgia? Are there any plans for projects in the aforementioned sectors already in place?

We have laid solid and significant groundwork for the development of Georgia since it became independent. It is my mission to further strengthen the political, economic, cultural, and educational ties with Georgia over the great platform that we have mutually created between the two countries and the two country’s people. I’m very optimistic about a new relationship and a closer cooperation on all these levels between Georgia and Japan.

Thank you very much, any final remarks?

I am very thankful for Georgia’s acceptance of Japanese culture. Indeed, Japan has a very long relationship with Georgia, and this is something that I would like to reiterate.

Upon doing some historical research, I learned that the recent DNA analysis had indicated that our Koshu grapes, wine grapes, are scientifically identical to one of the Georgian species. It is definitely a very interesting discovery as it goes to show just how far back the two countries go. Moreover, we have a very old national treasure warehouse ‘Shosoin’ in Nara prefecture that was built in the 8th century by the then-Emperor. Within that warehouse, we found Sasanian ornamental jugs, plates and pots: Japan is one of the destinations of the Silk Road, that bridge between East and West and a project that Georgian government is emphasizing. Since Japan is recognized as a part of that, this bridge between the cultures, it is very natural for Japan to play a cooperative role to develop this strategy in modern form.

Another relationship interesting to note is Japan’s love for Georgian Ballet. The great Vakhtang Chabukiani first came to Japan in the early 1970s to support one of the Japanese ballet companies and this unique and beautiful relationship continues until today thanks to the devotion of [Prima Ballerina] Nina Ananiashvili who has taken over the project. Today, Japanese ballet dancers, including trainees resident in Tbilisi, account for 11 people out of a total of about 40 Japanese residents in Georgia. We highly value this rich cultural relationship where a mutual respect has been fostered.

I will do my best to develop further mutual respect not only in the cultural and people to people’s relationships, but also stronger economic ties between the two countries.

Mate Foldi

16 October 2017 20:11