Belgium and Japan are celebrating 155 years of diplomatic relations. Bridges (by Synergy Media Specialists) spoke with Japanese Ambassador Makita Shimokawa on the long-standing relationship between both countries and Belgium’s role and strengths within the European Union.
Bridges: How would you characterize current relations between Belgium and Japan?
Shimokawa: In terms of economic ties, people-to-people exchanges and an appreciation of one another’s cultures, the bilateral relationship between both countries is excellent. The Japanese imperial family and the Belgian royal family share close ties and this important relationship is very dear to our hearts.
This year also happens to be the 100th anniversary of the visit of the late Emperor Showa to Belgium when he was crown prince in 1921. While this is an excellent year for both our countries, we are living in exceptional circumstances due to the pandemic. As we enter the post-pandemic world, I hope we will make up for the past year and work towards making our excellent relationship even better.
What is Belgium’s role as an investment destination and European headquarters for Japanese companies?
One aspect is Belgium’s role as a hub for international transportation and traffic. The country has important ports such as Antwerp and Bruges and during the pandemic, the Brussels Zaventem airport proved to be a very important hub for the transport of vaccines. With other important airports such as Liege and Charleroi, Belgium plays an important role in European Union and international transportation.
In terms of the European Union, Belgium is where new regulations are agreed upon and economic policies are implemented. Japanese companies, even those without manufacturing facilities in Belgium, are interested to come to Belgium to follow discussions on economic developments which may affect their European business. With high standards of education and technology, Japanese companies are investing in Belgium and expanding their research and development facilities in the country. One such Japanese company with a long history in Belgium recently announced to open a new research and development center in the city of Gent.
What are your insights on the pandemic and Belgium’s role in it?
The pandemic is, of course, a sad story. However, it has shown to the world, including Japan, that Belgium is at the center of cutting-edge high technology, medicine, chemistry and innovation.
A company in Belgium has provided us with vaccines in large quantities. Initially the vaccines provided to the Japanese population were solely from Belgium manufacturing facilities before other countries began manufacturing and distributing vaccines to Japan. This shows that Belgium has a real strength in this area and explains why new investments and mergers are taking place between Belgian and Japanese companies, particularly in areas such as medicine, but also in green energy and offshore wind generation plants.
What is your vision for the future of the embassy in Belgium?
We intend to catch up on missed opportunities due to the pandemic. We still face obstacles in terms of the movement of businesspeople and tourists. Depending on the situations in Japan and Belgium, we would like to get back on track in terms of our political, economic and cultural efforts and this includes arranging high-ranking visits and consultations between our two governments.
I understand next year the Belgian government intends to send an economic mission to Japan and I trust this will reinforce our close ties and shed new light on our bilateral relationship in terms of commerce and economic growth.
What message do you have for our readers?
The pandemic has given Belgium and Japan occasion to rethink and redevelop our bilateral relationship. Technology on both sides has enabled us to interact digitally and I hope that as we come out of this pandemic, or indeed even while we are still in it, we can learn to develop our relationship and find the merits and strong points of one another.
When I first arrived in Belgium, I wanted to bring the economic and political relations between Japan and Belgium to a higher level. The pandemic provided a push to our efforts to increase our cooperation and I am hopeful that we will continue to strengthen our relationship in the years to come.