Newly arrived Japanese ambassador to China expresses hope to promote mutual exchanges
Published: Jan 24, 2024 08:38 PM Updated: Jan 25, 2024 11:19 PM

Editor's Note:

It has been more than one month since Japanese ambassador to China Kenji Kanasugi arrived in December 2023. On January 18, Ambassador Kanasugi gave an exclusive interview to Global Times reporters Xing Xiaojing and Liu Xin (GT), his first interview with Chinese media, during which he described diplomatic work as a "long-distance relay race," and said that whoever holds the baton should run as far as possible. During his tenure as Japanese ambassador to China, he hopes to use his own experiences to promote mutual exchanges between Japan and China, and contribute to the improvement of bilateral relations.

Japanese ambassador to China Kenji Kanasugi Photo: Liu Xin/GT

Japanese ambassador to China Kenji Kanasugi Photo: Liu Xin/GT

GT: After receiving the news of your appointment as the ambassador to China, we have learned that you are held in very high regard by both Chinese and Japanese individuals who have the occasion of your acquaintance. They view you as a professional diplomat and, although you do not come from a "China school" background, they have high hopes that you will contribute to the improvement of China-Japan relations. How do you view this praise and expectations? Could you please introduce the focus and goals of your work during your tenure as the Japanese ambassador?

Kanasugi: As a diplomat, it's a great honor to receive such praise. Rather than saying this is a recognition of me personally, I hope it can also bring about appreciation for the Japanese people, Japanese companies, and Japan as a whole.

In fact, I am not an expert on China issues. As you know, from 2016 to 2019, I served as the director general of the Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, responsible for Japan-China relations. I also served as the director-general of the Economic Affairs Bureau, gaining some firsthand experience in Japan-China relations. At that time, a series of meetings between high-level officials from Japan and China gradually set the gears in motion for the improvement of Japan-China relations.

In October 2018, the late prime minister Shinzo Abe made an official visit to China, and I was also part of the delegation that visited Beijing. I hope to contribute my modest efforts in promoting the advancement of Japan-China relations based on my experiences.

One important duty of the ambassador and the embassy is to ensure the security of Japanese nationals living in China and to protect the Japanese companies' interests. For this, I think Japan and China should still strengthen communication.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, over the last three years, communication between China and Japan was suspended, as it was among other countries. In November 2023, top leaders from China and Japan held a summit to improve bilateral relations after the end of the pandemic. Therefore, I hope to promote mutual exchanges between Japan and China in order to improve bilateral relations.

GT: What impressed you most during your previous visits to China? How do you feel coming to China this time as the newly appointed ambassador?

Kanasugi: My most unforgettable experience was accompanying the then-Japanese prime minister on his visit to Beijing in October 2018. At the time, as the director general of the Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, I directly participated in the related work, which left a deep impression on me. Moreover, about 10 years ago, there were voices saying that Beijing had severe air pollution, I was able to see the blue sky during that visit, during which the air in Beijing was very fresh, which surprised me.

Coming to China for work, this time as a diplomat, I feel deeply honored, and as an ambassador to China, one of the most important countries for Japan, I cannot afford to be complacent in any sense. I will try my best to promote the development of Japan-China relations, even if it is a step or two forward.

GT: On November 16, 2023, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in San Francisco, US. During the meeting, the two leaders reiterated their commitment to the principles and consensus stipulated in the four political documents between the two countries and reaffirmed the positioning of promoting China-Japan strategic relationship of mutual benefit in an all-round way. They also agreed to dedicate themselves to jointly building a constructive and stable China-Japan relationship that meets the demands of the new era. What are your thoughts on the significance of this meeting?

Kanasugi: The joint statement on the All-round Promotion of Strategic Relationship of Mutual Benefit was signed by Japan and China in 2008. Its main content is that as neighboring countries, Japan and China face various challenges and should work together to address them. At the same time, there are many areas in which Japan and China can deepen their cooperation.

I believe that deepening cooperation in these areas is the essence of promoting China-Japan strategic relationship of mutual benefit in an all-round way. However, during the pandemic, the exchange of personnel between Japan and China was interrupted, and the relationship between the two countries became somewhat strained.

Against this background, it is of great significance for the leaders of Japan and China to reaffirm the positioning of promoting China-Japan strategic relationship of mutual benefit in an all-round way during their meeting, in order to deepen cooperation between Japan and China.

GT: What measures will Japan take to implement the consensus reached by the top leaders of the two countries?

Kanasugi: I believe it is necessary to deepen communication through various channels. In fact, consensus has been reached on the Japan-China Economic High-Level Dialogue, Japan-China people-to-people and cultural exchanges dialogue, and mutual visits of foreign ministers during occasions such as the Japan-China leaders' summit.

Such exchanges are crucial for promoting personnel exchanges. What is even more important is to let the people of Japan and China see that unresolved issues are being resolved through this communication. Once exchanges and dialogue resume, things will move forward.

GT: After the Chinese and American leaders met in San Francisco, China-US relations are expected to get warm. Do you think that there is also a possibility for a turning point in China-Japan relations?

Kanasugi: The Japan-China relationship is not defined by the US-China relationship. Japan's foreign policy is entirely based on its national interests, which is a major premise. Under this premise, both sides reaffirmed in November 2023 the positioning of promoting China-Japan strategic relationship of mutual benefit in an all-round way. I hope that progress can be made in Japan-China relations within this important framework.

GT: However, there is a viewpoint that believes that China-Japan relations will also be influenced by China-US relations.

Kanasugi: That is because we are part of the international community, therefore the influence from US-China relations will not be zero. If Japan-China relations are improving, I believe this will certainly have an impact on US-China relations as well. The international community is a relationship of interdependence, and I think [the above viewpoint] should be discussed based on this.

GT: We noticed that you often wore traditional attire while serving as the Japanese Ambassador to Indonesia. Would you consider doing the same with traditional Chinese costume?

Kanasugi: In Indonesia, there is a traditional attire called "Batik." I often wore it because, according to Indonesian customs, wearing "Batik" is suitable for any occasion, such as meeting the president, attending weddings, or going to work. It is very convenient, and Indonesians dress this way. So, I was not the only one as the embassy staff often wore "Batik." However, when attending formal occasions in China, it is still necessary to wear a suit, so I usually wear suits during work.

GT: Do you plan to create a social media account after coming to China, and share similar regular life updates as you did during your tenure in Indonesia?

Kanasugi: I have only been here for a month and I don't know yet. If it helps to promote Japan-China relations, I am willing to consider it.

GT: Although you recently arrived in China, we are curious about what kind of outcome you hope to see in China-Japan relations when you leave China.

Kanasugi: In Japan there is a popular sport called Ekiden, in which the baton is passed on from one runner to another in a long-distance race. I believe our work is like a relay race, taking over the baton from our predecessors and running as far as possible during our term, and then passing the baton on to the next person.

I hope that during my term, Japan-China relations can move forward, even if it's just one or two steps. It has only been a month since my arrival, and currently, I want to make efforts to solve as many of the current issues as possible.

GT: Which place do you want to visit during your stay in China?

Kanasugi: China is vast and rich in resources, with many beautiful places. During my time in China, I want to explore more and see more, which will deepen my personal experience. There are still many places that I don't know much about, but many Japanese people, especially my generation, have a strong desire to visit the "Silk Road," so I also want to go and see it.

GT:What is your view on the significance of China-Japan relations to Asia and the whole world?

Kanasugi: When I left Indonesia, many Indonesian friends saw me off and said, the stability of China-Japan relations is crucial for Indonesia and ASEAN. Please make sure to work hard. I will always remember these voices in my work in China.