June 18, 2014
Taji Tashi Hotel, Thimphu, Bhutan
Honourable Foreign Minister Lyonpo Rinzin Dorji,
Mr. Chetem Wangchen, former Programme Director, Agriculture Machinery Centre,
Distinguished guest, ladies and gentlemen,
It is my great honor to be with you to celebrate 50 years of Japan's fruitful collaboration with Bhutan. I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to the organizers of this event for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today. And I want to thank all those in attendance here whose cooperation has made our two countries' many years of partnership strong and productive.
Bhutan is a unique country with a national character rooted in a deep appreciation of traditional beliefs and customs. Bhutan and Japan are very similar in this way. Indeed, both Bhutanese and Japanese cultures are heavily influenced by Mahayana Buddhism, with its teaching of the "altruistic soul" and aspiration to save all living things in pain. I believe this is a fundamental principle of our behavior. It may also explain why Japan and Bhutan have truly understood each other and have maintained very good relations for so many years.
Occasionally, this understanding and friendship has been affirmed during times of national hardship. In March 2011, Bhutan held a remembrance ceremony immediately after the Great East Japan Earthquake. This act of solidarity was made all the more moving with a donation of 1 million dollars for post-earthquake reconstruction, and with His Majesty's visit to Fukushima in November 2011. I can tell you that this consideration by the Bhutanese people remains in Japanese people's hearts.
And we find a particular gratification in celebrating your successes. Japan applauds the great strides forward that Bhutan has made over the years. One of its many notable accomplishments has been the successful transition to democracy from monarchical rule under King Singe Wangchuck's initiative. His enactment of democracy from the top is a very rare, but exemplary case in the world. In July 2013, the second national election led to a peaceful change of government. With it, I am convinced, popular vote-based governance in Bhutan has been institutionalized.
For the remainder of my remarks, I will highlight some of JICA's experiences in Bhutan over the last several decades. Then I will briefly touch on our plans for the future.
Japan's support to Bhutan started in 1964, when JICA dispatched an expert named Mr. Keiji Nishioka (better known as Dasho Nishioka) to provide agricultural assistance. I had a chance earlier to tour the Agricultural Machinery Center and National Seed Center that Dasho Nishioka had a hand in creating during his 28 years in Bhutan. I am heartened that his work is held in high esteem by so many to this very day.
The cooperative relationship that Dasho Nishioka spearheaded in 1964 has steadily expanded. Over the last 50 years, more than 300 Japanese experts have been dispatched to Bhutan for technical cooperation, as have more than 500 Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV) and senior volunteers. Moreover, Japan has provided Bhutan with 5.7 billion yen worth of official development assistance (ODA) loans and 32 billion yen of grant aid. In fact, Japan is now the largest bilateral ODA partner to Bhutan according to statistics from the OECD's Development Assistance Committee.
Agricultural and rural development continues to be a central pillar of JICA's activities in Bhutan. Approximately half of Bhutan's population derives its livelihood from agriculture, so we at JICA are very aware of its significance in terms of reducing poverty.
I would like to draw your attention to a few of the many projects we have undertaken since Dasho Nishioka's time. They, too, may stand out in your memory.
Japan's "Food Security for Underprivileged Farmers" scheme ("2KR" for short) provides grants to assist small-holder farmers in increasing their production of staple food crops (like rice, wheat, maize). These grants have been well-appreciated and extremely popular with the farmers of Bhutan, because the machinery and equipment they fund improve agricultural efficiency. In Bhutan, mechanization serves to keep farmers' production costs low and compensate for limited availability of labor and arable land due to topographical constraints.
My colleagues and I are very proud that Bhutan continues to value Japanese cooperation in the field of agriculture. In February of this year, Mr. Yuichi Tomiyasu, a JICA expert and team leader for our Horticulture Research and Development Project was co-awarded the "National Order of Merit" by the King. He shared that honor with Mr. Lhap Dorji, director of the Renewable Natural Resource Research and Development Center based here in Bhutan.
Japan has also sought to improve the standard of living in rural areas through other means. For example, JICA ODA loans are being used to expand electricity distribution networks in rural parts of the country. This should make significant inroads toward the government's target of electrifying 100% of households.
Japan has also brought the latest advances in science to bear on a serious challenge that confronts Bhutan: increased flooding due to the melting of Himalayan glaciers caused by climate change. We are doing so through our innovative Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development, or SATREPS.
SATREPS was established in 2008 by JICA and the Japan Science and Technology Agency, making it a government-academia alliance. SATREPS promotes joint research between scientists in Japan and developing countries for the benefit of society. Very often, the research performed under its auspices seeks to resolve issues of global magnitude, such as environmental conservation, energy production, disaster prevention, and prevention of infectious diseases.
The "Study on Glacial Lake Outburst Floods in the Bhutan Himalayas" was one of the original SATREPS projects. This study utilized high-resolution imagery from Japan's second Advanced Land Observation Satellite to identify Himalayan glacial lakes at high risk of flooding. This study stimulated many academic research papers, and its success led to a follow-on technical cooperation project aimed at developing a flood forecasting and early warning system in Bhutan.
SATREPS projects like the one for Bhutan are instrumental not only for researchers seeking worldly knowledge but also for policymakers trying to formulate sound development plans. I am very confident that, with SATREPS the Japanese government has opened up a new horizon in leveraging science for diplomacy.
Let me now turn to how Bhutan has made a considerable difference in the international development arena. As we all know, Gross National Happiness (GNH) is a unique development philosophy launched by Bhutan that measures quality of life or social progress in more holistic terms than economic indicators like GDP.
The Great East Japan Earthquake, and a later visit by Their Majesties the King and Queen, drew the attention of the Japanese people to Bhutan and to GNH. That may be because a tragedy of that earthquake's proportions often leads to reflection of what is truly important in life.
In 2011, shortly after the earthquake, the Japan Society for Gross National Happiness Studies was established to analyze the concept of GNH as well as promote activities and policies for its enhancement. Since then, some attempts have been made to incorporate the concept of happiness into local government policy-making and administration. Arakawa-ku, Tokyo, is one such example. This ward of the capital city developed Gross Arakawa Happiness (GAH). GAH measures what makes the inhabitants of the ward happy based on a locally-tailored index.
I think GNH shares a common feature with ‘human security,' which the Japanese government promotes. That is, both GNH and human security challenge the traditional notion of well-being by arguing that the proper referent should be the individual rather than the state.
For its part, Bhutan has continued to refine GNH into a fully-fledged policy tool.
I, myself, am happy to announce today that JICA is going to work with The Centre for Bhutan Studies & GNH Research (CBS) to carry out the third GNH survey scheduled for September of this year.
I expect there will be much more we from Japan can also learn about the intricacies of GNH as this research partnership unfolds.
Now I would like to share a few more words about how JICA intends to focus our efforts in Bhutan in the future.
Looking ahead, new challenges will need to be carefully addressed if Bhutan is to achieve the type of balanced development it so rightly strives for. Chief among these challenges are rapid urbanization, due mainly to rural-to-urban migration, youth unemployment, as well as climate change.
Recognizing this, JICA is considering to expand the scope of our cooperation to cover new fields, such as environmental and disaster management, industrial development, and urban infrastructure development. We have prepared a Country Analysis Paper detailing current conditions in these areas and look forward to using it as a basis of our future discussion together.
The emphasis of our activities of cooperation may change to reflect Bhutan's evolving needs. But our work will continue to be guided by the same principles of self-reliance and inclusiveness.
Once again, we at JICA would like to thank our partners in Bhutan for your understanding and cooperation over the last half century. You have helped to make Japanese ODA to your country a resounding success.
Looking forward, we are eager to keep providing the type of dynamic support that benefits all people of Bhutan.