Yerke Tulegenova

The first ambassador of Japan to Kazakhstan plans on writing a book about his former host country. Akira Matsui regularly visits the country to which he was posted for three years (1993-1996), and these he views with “nostalgia”. In 1999, he went to Astana, at which time he “failed to notice any changes.” During his most recent trip to Astana and Almaty, the former ambassador “was surprised, and could not understand why the capital had been so quickly built up.” Before coming to work in Kazakhstan Mr. Matsui had served in a diplomatic capacity in India, Yugoslavia, Italy, Bulgaria and Nigeria. Presently, he is a professor of political and social sciences at the University of Kyorin in Tokyo.

Mr. Matsui has kindly agreed to share his impressions about Kazakhstan with Exclusive” On the one hand, I can see signs of improvement in the standard of living in Kazakhstan: cities are being built, and there are many cars on the roads, which demonstrate a growth in prosperity. On the other hand, the air in Almaty, for example, has become polluted and heavy [to breathe]. The tap water remains clean, while the air itself is dirty. Serious migration problems can also be observed, as there are many people moving into the two capitals. The authorities of the country should consider their decisions on these issues – ecological and migratory – before they turn into serious problems, such as has happened in developing countries, including Indonesia and Thailand, among others.

— Kazakhstan and Nigeria are often compared with regards to the high dependency of their economies on oil, as well as the distribution of oil revenues. Do you think that such comparisons are fair?
— There are commonalities: a great amount of money leads to high inflation. However, a great difference exists between your countries. Education comes first to mind. Nigeria has 130 mln people, but the majority of the population cannot read and write. Yet, Kazakhstan has very educated people. A large population does not always mean good [human] resources. The second peculiarity is the state of society. Constant conflicts are occurring between different religious groups and tribes (in Nigeria there are over a hundred). No democracy has been established in the country. The government has constantly changed as a result of military coups And, the biggest problem of Nigeria is corruption. Money earned from oil and gas practically never reaches the average citizen. Currently, the standards of living are much worse than thirty years ago [when oil production began in that country]. Kazakhstan has held democratic elections, there are no conflicts in the country, and the money earned from oil production still finds its way into the economy and through social spending. The main idea here is that a lot of attention is paid to education. Nonetheless, there are problems that make your countries similar, such as the weak development of agriculture and regions. Both countries are big, but they have enormous unexploited and undeveloped territories. A tendency can be observed in which young people choose not to remain in the villages, and this means that nobody will be developing agricultural production.

— Among the foreign investors in Kazakhstan, one rarely meets representatives of your country. Are Japanese interested in working in Kazakhstan?
— Many countries ask this question (laughing). Russia also wants Japanese investment, thinking that Japan needs gas, oil and metals. Kazakhstan is also surprised the inactivity of Japanese businessmen. When I worked in India, the local authorities also invited Japanese investors to develop the Indian economy. However, our entrepreneurs were not then in a hurry to do so, and currently they regret this. The Japanese think for a long time, hold numerous consultations, as well as observe how the Americans and the Europeans act, how much they have earned on this uncertain market, and what the country risk is. Only after having made a very thorough analysis of the situation, do they finally take a decision. And, they are often late in this. Nonetheless, I think that Japanese investors will slowly come to Kazakhstan.

— To which risks do Japanese businessmen pay the most attention?
— They observe what changes occur in a country, and how fast. However, they do not always welcome changes that come to quickly, as they are not able to make these out and understand them. Probably, this is a weakness of Japanese entrepreneurs. They decide that it is better not to take a “risk”, and often do not understand that such changes may be for the better. As well, enterprises in Japan have just been recovering from a multiyear economic slump. In reality, Japanese investors do not have much money (laughing).

— How do you think Japanese-Kazakhstani relations will develop in the near future – also slowly?
— No, I think they will be expedited. Recently, our Prime Minister, Koizumi, visited Central Asia, including Kazakhstan. I think this visit demonstrates the interest of Japan in Kazakhstan, and in cooperation with your country.

— What would Tokyo be interested in as regards such relations?
— Development of technological cooperation, student exchange, and cultural contribution. Cultural contribution is very important for us. Recently, there has been advertising and information about Kazakhstan on some international channels, which is a matter of interest to the Japanese. For example, our nation lacks the money to advertise on CNN (laughing). I think that in the near future, Japanese businessmen will begin arriving in Kazakhstan in order to exchange information and try to understand what is occurring here.

— When the citizens of the countries in which you worked after leaving Kazakhstan learned about your work experience here, what did they know about this country? What is the image of our nation overseas?
— Unfortunately, most people in countries beyond the CIS do not know anything about Kazakhstan. In addition to this, I can say the same about my own country: many Americans and Africans do not know that there is a Japan next to China. They know that Toyota exists, but are unaware of where it is produced. I mean that the average person living in Africa, Japan or America does not know where Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, or even Afghanistan is situation.

— You have gained rich experience from working in different countries of Europe, Asia and Africa. Do you consider that there has been progress in solving currently existing religious and national conflicts?
— I think that this is a very complex set of problems. To mast be understood that existing conflicts do not merely regard interfaith or interethnic contentions, and are more complicated. Because, in Iraq and Ireland, Muslims kill Muslims and Christians kill Christians… Japan is far from the center of conflicts, and it is difficult for us to understand why people kill each other with the name of God on their lips. Why can they simply not sit at the negotiating table? Yet, we know from our own life experience that solving such problems within the span of one or two “roundtable” discussions is not possible. Spending a lot of time sitting and listening to each other and trying to resolve problems with the “tongue”, and not with a weapon, is quite important. Presently, it is often stated that the UN says much, but does little. Yet, today this is the only forum in which such problems can be discussed, and this forum should be utilized. Therefore, I highly appreciate the initiative of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who offers to host religious fora and to discuss problems at the table, instead of throwing stones at each other.

— Aside from a religious forum, President Nazarbayev initiates various integrative ideas. For example, he actively promotes Kazakhstan in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. How do people in Japan relate to those political projects in which such large neighbors as China and Russia participate?
— Japan, just as Kazakhstan, must weigh the interests of such large players as the U.S., China and Russia, each of which wants to be a leader. However, the voice of a small country can be heard if it is not alone. Therefore, small European countries, such as Belgium, for example, have taken a decision to form the European Union, as this has enabled them to have a vote, and to influence the decisions of the largest participants within the association. Therefore, Japan also participates in many multilateral associations in our southeast region, as this helps to more effectively resolve common problems. For instance, ecological problems, because there are no borders for dirty air between Kazakhstan, China or Japan, as it simply travels the earth embracing all countries. Also, some political problems are better resolved in a multilateral format, than a bilateral one. For example, the issues between the two Koreas are currently being discussed with the participation of Japan and China.

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