Ambassador Kuninori Matsuda speaks at the event on Wednesday.—White Star
Ambassador Kuninori Matsuda speaks at the event on Wednesday.—White Star

KARACHI: “Pakistan was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with Japan after signing a treaty in 1952. Japan extended its hand in friendship and Pakistan helped us build our economy after the WW-II defeat. That same year Karachi became one of the first few cities of the world from where Japan chose to return to business after the war,” said Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to Pakistan Kuninori Matsuda while making his presentation about ‘Pakistan-Japan relationship’ organised by the English Speaking Union of Pakistan (ESUP) at a local hotel here on Wednesday.

“Even before the signing of the treaty, Japan already had links with Karachi as it had a port from where Pakistani cotton would be exported to Japan since around 1920,” the ambassador, who likes to be called Matz, said.

“Then in 1962, on the 10th anniversary of our diplomatic relations, the Emperor Emeritus Akihito and Empress Emerita Michiko became the first Japanese emperor and empress who visited Pakistan. They still have very fond memories of that visit. Before them, Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi had also come to Pakistan. We are now working on the next stage of exchange of visits of both the prime ministers of our countries. So our political dialogue is stable and growing,” he said before coming to some of their major projects in Pakistan since 1952.

“Today, we have spent around 12 billion US dollars as economic grant and in the shape of various projects such as construction of roads, education projects, etc. The embassy and government of Japan is currently looking for priority areas as it comes up with further projects here. We want to utilise our valuable resources to address the needs of the Pakistani society in economy, infrastructure, transport, water supply, education and vocational training, disaster prevention and disaster and risk management during earthquakes and flooding as Japan is also vulnerable to such natural disasters,” he said.

‘The new Japanese working visa will be a game changer’

He also said that Japan wanted to assist Pakistan in eradicating polio. He said Japan was willing to extend necessary funding and technical assistance for solving Pakistan’s water issues through water-related projects by JICA [Japan International Cooperation Agency] such as desalination, waste-water management, floodwater management. “We plan to bring a special mission of experts to Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad for fact-finding and recommendations and to discuss with your government how to implement the recommended projects,” he said.

On the subject of trade and investment, he said Japan had started importing mangoes from Pakistan. “We also get mangoes supplied from Malaysia and the Philippines, but Pakistani mangoes look and taste better. Still, they have proved to be rather fragile during transportation. We now intend to bring mango quality inspectors to facilitate import procedures. We are also going to bring a new agriculture option of setting up factories here to make mango juice, etc, and export it to Japan as well as other countries from Pakistan only,” the ambassador said. “We can do the same for sesame seed and other produce from Pakistan,” he added.

He said the fishing industry of Pakistan also needed to be expanded and they could help there as well by finding a way to catch the fish themselves and transport the catch to Japan. Another thing that they were interested in doing was opening restaurants in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad where the locally-caught fish could be served.

The Japanese ambassador said that they also saw e-sports as a big opportunity in Pakistan. “We see so much talent in new game designers here. Many e-sports companies are looking into Pakistan.”

Other opportunities viewed by Japan in Pakistan, according to the diplomat, included baby formula companies, pharmaceuticals, automobiles, textile companies, mining, tourism, the energy sector, etc. He said that they could offer better textile machines at less cost if the textile industry here would like to upgrade their machines. About mining, he said that there was mining potential in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “KP has precious stones such as rubies and emeralds which Japan can import.”

Regarding the energy sector, he aired their interest in the gas discovered here. About tourism, he thought it would be a good idea for Japan to set up or promote tourism-related transportation companies or hotels. He also said that currently there were two flights in a week from Tokyo to Islamabad but he had already spoken with the national flag carrier to increase that number to four. He said that Pakistan was twice the size of Japan so there was also a need for a better railway network, road network, public transportation and logistics. He also thought that Pakistan should consider box cars and minibuses to bring improvement to this sector.

Talking about the shrinking population of Japan, he said that they had tried all that they could to rectify the situation but to no avail. “So now we have opened up our labour market and changed our immigration law. We will give priority status to Pakistani workers in information technology, our automobile industry, our hotels, restaurants, etc. The new Japanese working visa will be a game changer as we will first invite some 350 foreigners to live and work in Japan for five years. Then after that we can even extend that visa or offer permanent status to workers and their families,” he announced.

Finally, he said that Japan is also in the process of developing its cricket team. “We have high-school teams, girls’ teams and university cricket teams. And that system has helped us build our first professional under-19 cricket team, which we hope to see turn into a strong national team in a few years. But first we need good cricket coaches for our cricket players,” he said while encouraging cricket coaches in Pakistan to apply for the job.

“In 2022, we will commemorate 70 years of trade and cooperation with Pakistan. We will celebrate it in a most appropriate and befitting way. It might even see a cricket match between Japan and Pakistan, so stay tuned,” he said with a chuckle.

Published in Dawn, October 10th, 2019