"Action Diplomacy": Japanese Ambassador to Poland Akio Miyajima at SGH Warsaw School of Economics

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On 1 June 2022 Akio Miyajima, Japanese Ambassador to Poland, delivered a lecture for SGH students as part of "Action Diplomacy", a project of Student Study Group of Foreign Affairs. The Japanese ambassador also met with Vice-Rector for International Cooperation Jacek Prokop, PhD, SGH Professor and Director of the Center for International Cooperation Katarzyna Kacperczyk. The diplomat also gave an interview to "Gazeta SGH".

Karolina Cygonek talked with Akio Miyajima, Japanese Ambassador to Poland, about cooperation with SGH Warsaw School of Economics, consequences of the war in Ukraine for the region and the world, Japan's help in rebuilding Ukraine and Poland's role in this process.

Karolina Cygonek: Your Excellency, SGH has signed bilateral cooperation agreements with 12 Japanese universities. SGH has been developing a student exchange program with eleven universities from that list. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic Japanese universities have suspended admitting students until further notice. Researchers continue to participate in the exchange but the scale of the exchange is much modest now. What has the experience of the pandemic taught us? When can we expect this situation to change?

AKIO MIYAJIMA: As an ambassador I came to Poland in November 2020 at the peak of the pandemic and for the first six months I could not see almost anybody. Everything was shut down. Isolation and closure imposed by the pandemic has caused obviously serious social, economic and even political problems. Individual people suffered from severe solitude or mental stress. Now we all are trying to learn how to live together with the pandemic. Of course, we will never go back to the pre-pandemic days. In case of the academic community, some online or hybrid seminars will continue to be important. At the same time we realize so clearly that the people need to mingle together and communicate, hug and smile at each other, not only within the country but also across the borders especially because Japan and Poland are geographically far apart. The bitter lesson from COVID-19 is that we could somehow survive with vaccination but exchanges in person are very important and valuable. To make friends and relationship we must meet each other in person, shake hands, eat together. I belong to a bit older, analog age generation and I cannot be comfortable with dry, digital world. The lockdown has taught me how important it is to meet people.

Maintaining public health is very important, but at the same time there need to be a pragmatic balance with the economic and social needs, including student admission and academic exchanges. Unlike China, Japan does not have “zero-corona” policy and has already started admitting to Japan researchers and some students from abroad. Japan has implemented cautious, but pragmatic and gradual opening for visitors from foreign countries. Japan still require a visa and the negative certificate. This month we are going to open Japan for the group tourists from abroad. So, step by step our restriction has been lifted.

As Ambassador of Japan to Poland I would like to see prompt resumption of these academic and student exchanges, because it is really important for the future of both countries. Because Japan was closed for almost 3 years, some students or scholars decided to give up the hope to go to Japan, and had to go somewhere else. It is a real pity. Japanese government is fully aware that admitting foreign students and academic exchanges should be a priority. I believe that necessary further measures will be taken to address this problem.

How does Japan see its role in Central-Eastern Europe? To what extent does it intend to get involved in rebuilding after the aggression against Ukraine? How does Japanese diplomacy see Poland's role in this regard?

This is also a very important question. Here in Poland more than 350 Japanese companies including TOYOTA have been operating because they are fully aware the benefits of diligent and innovative people here and free access to EU market. I am convinced Japan’s engagement in Central-Eastern Europe will be steadily strengthened, as the countries in this region have been developing steadily over 30 years with political stability and rule of law as EU member. Poland is the leader among V4 group and its voice has become more important within EU decision making after UK’s Brexit. The current Ukraine situation has highlighted the strategic importance of this region. We have witnessed Warsaw’s relationship with Washington and Brussel has improved significantly. 

Let me talk about Japan’s position and actions on Ukraine issue. This Russian aggression is totally unacceptable. It is a gross violation of international law. We cannot tolerate such a unilateral attempt to change the status quo by force in XXI century. Indeed, we have a common neighbor in between Japan and Poland (ed. Russia). Japanese people was been shocked, worried about Ukrainian situation and paying very close attention to Ukrainian situation. Ukraine has remain top news in Japanese news media. Poland has been playing key role as a frontline country and as strategic hub for humanitarian and military assistance to help Ukrainians’ brave and enormously difficult fight against Russia. Polish people have demonstrated to the world that they are so generous and kind to accept with their big heart more than three million refugees, almost 90% among them are women and children, providing food, shelters and others, from the day 1 of Russian aggression. So many foreign VIP has visited Poland and Ukraine through Poland. Poland’s international standing in the EU and in the world has been greatly enhanced.

This is the greatest challenge to rule-based international order, not only just for Europe but also for the world including East Asia. Everybody, not only the people and leaders in Europe, but also in Asia, Middle East, and Africa have been watching closely what has happened and what is happening in Ukraine. Japan as G7 member has joined the toughest sanctions against Russia with US, European like-minded partners. The impacts are not limited to security aspects. Global energy and food situation have been greatly affected and the people living in Global South have been hit hard. This aggression against Ukraine has changed the world and its huge and significant impacts and ramifications will last for the decades. We must realize that ordinary days and international order before 24th Feb will not come back. The world and world order has changed. Russia must change. Europe must change and the Asians must change as well to adopt and cope with this big transformation. After ceasefire on the battle grounds, rehabilitation and reconstruction phase will begin. We must learn important lessons from this war, and we must bear responsibility together to build a new free and democratic Ukraine and a better world. Japan is prepared for participating in this important endeavor with the international community.

Financially too, Mr. Ambassador?

Certainly. Japan has already provided significant assistance for Ukrainians: $200 million emergency humanitarian assistance through UN such as UNHCR, UNICEF, IOM and $600 million financial support for Ukrainian Government as well as more than $200 million donations from the private sectors. Japan is prepared for playing a significant role for rehabilitation and reconstruction of Ukraine, working together with Poland and the international community.

In the current international situation does Japan intend to strengthen/expand academic, scientific, and business cooperation with Poland and in which areas in particular?

Japan is firmly convinced research institutions and student exchanges would be especially important because we believe that young students, science and technology are going to bring our future forward. Business ties are so important to strengthen our friendship and partnership. Japan has very advanced science and technology. It seems many Polish students remain a bit euro-focused. In view of global economic shift to Indo-Pacific, they need to be exposed more to our region.

The wonderful humanitarian actions by the Polish people to accept such a huge Ukrainian refugees, women and children, strengthens positive sentiment toward Poland. This is a good moment for both of us to start strengthening our bilateral friendship and partnership, including those in business, research and development.

In which spheres exactly would we be helpful?

For example, I can see a good cooperation potential in the field of energy transition and energy security. We can cooperate each other to make green revolution with technology such as hydrogen energy. And Japan would like to learn more about the economic potential of Poland, Central Europe and beyond. The summit of the Three Seas Initiative will be held in Riga on 20th June. Japan need to learn the potential of the connectivity of Central and Eastern Europe, Baltic States with cooperation with the USA, Germany and EU. Now hopefully we are at the end of pandemic time, it is absolutely important for business people, students and academics to visit each other country to revitalize and strengthen the relationship and to start new friendship and partnership.

From the beginning of the next year Japan is going to assume G7 presidency over from Germany. This autumn Japan is most likely to be elected as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for two years, 2023-2024. The world will become more unpredictable. Many issues relating to the war in Ukraine will affect the world. So, what is important is that we, like-minded countries such as Poland and Japan continue the solid cooperation and solidarity. Poland and Japan are the best partners, not only in Ukrainian issue, but also in many other fields.

Last weekend I enjoyed Chopin piano concert in Lazienki Park. That was really great. I felt so fortunate to be posted here in Warsaw. I was so happy surrounded by many people, relaxed and with smiling faces without wearing a mask, just enjoying beautiful Chopin piano pieces. We have almost forgotten this joy of life after 3 years of the pandemic.

I am a born optimist and I do wish that my time in Poland will be full of happy and beautiful occasions. I am looking forward to exciting and stimulating experiences.