Opening remarks for press conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan (FCCJ)


FCCJ Function Room (Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo)

Thank you very much for kind introduction. It is my great honor to be able to share my views with you at FCCJ.

As I was introduced, I am Akihiko Tanaka, president of JICA. It has been a year since I took office for the second time in April last year. As some were mentioned, I previously served as JICA's president from 2012 to 2015. The world has changed drastically since the time when I assumed JICA's presidency before. Today, I would like to talk about a bit of my personal activities or official activities at JICA during my first year in office. And I'd like to touch upon JICA's role and initiatives under the current international circumstances.

In 2023, the world continues to face multiple and compounded global crises, which could be described as, I would say, a once-in-a-century event. Climate change is inflicting increasingly severe damage on humanity. The war in Ukraine is not only causing terrible casualties for both the Ukrainians and Russian people, but is also fueling serious energy and food shortages at a global scale.

Meanwhile, accelerated by climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation is soaring across most of the world's economies. On top of that, interest rates are rising, and currency exchange markets are quite volatile. Developed countries face potential recessions, while some developing countries are experiencing debt problems.

These compounded crises pose a threat to all of humanity, and at the same time, they have a devastating impact on the economies and societies of developing countries, putting the most vulnerable population at risk. Achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030 is at stake. What can we do to overcome these crises and move one step closer towards achieving the SDGs? Well, these crises cannot be resolved by the efforts of individual, single countries alone. We must work to address these challenges together. In this context, I recognize that JICA, as a development cooperation agency of Japan, has an unprecedentedly important role to play.

JICA's mission is to promote "human security". I believe that now more than ever, world leaders need to reaffirm that "human security" is an important guiding principle for overcoming these crises. "Human security" aims to achieve the fundamental values of human beings, that is, that all people are free from fear and want, and can live in dignity. I recognize that JICA is now called upon to contribute to the creation of a society that is resilient to diverse threats through the empowerment of people, organizations and societies.

In recognition of current headwinds to achieving human security, JICA's entire staff has been working under the slogan "Japan is Back" to return JICA's activities to pre-COVID-19 levels as quickly as possible. So far, I have visited 13 countries in different regions of the world to see the project sites and hear the real voice of people there. I also spoke with the leaders of our partner countries and international organizations. Without fail, we confirmed that we would cooperate and work together as mutual partners to tackle each challenge as necessary to achieve the SDGs.

The first country that I visited as JICA president this time was South Sudan. After half a century of Africa's longest civil war, South Sudan gained independence in 2011, and is in the process of building a new country. One of the projects that signify its hard-won freedom, desire for peace, and hope for the future was the construction of, what the people of South Sudan call, the "Freedom Bridge" that runs across the Nile River. Due to the long civil war, South Sudan never had a bridge suitable for stimulating economic activities. The Freedom Bridge is located on the international highway connecting South Sudan's capital Juba to the port of Mombasa in Kenya. The bridge is a lifeline for the transport of goods that support the reconstruction of South Sudan. The project was finally completed last May after nine years of construction, which had to be suspended several times due to conflict and COVID-19.

At the completion ceremony of the bridge, President Salva Kiir and First Vice-President Riek Machar, who were responsible for the 2016 clashes, smiled and shook hands as many citizens celebrated. I was glad to witness such a historic moment, as I had championed this project when I traveled to South Sudan in 2013. During my recent stay in Juba, I also reaffirmed that making the dividends of peace visible and real to the people of South Sudan is critical to the consolidation of peace and democracy there.

I then visited Tunisia in August to participate in the eighth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD 8) and exchange views with many African leaders. As you know, Africa's total population is now roughly the same size as that of China or India and is expected to surpass theirs in the future. It is especially remarkable that many African startup companies, often led by young entrepreneurs, utilize digital technology in innovative ways to address social issues.

However, Africa remains the region most negatively affected by compounded crises, putting human security severely at risk.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people in Africa living on less than 1.9 US dollars a day continued to decline, but as of 2020, an additional estimated 55 million people are once again living in extreme poverty. As I alluded before, Africa is also facing acute food shortages due to the war in Ukraine.

JICA has long been engaged in the agricultural and industrial sectors to help countries in Africa build resilience and cope with crises. During TICAD 8, I affirmed that it was critical to support development of African countries from long term perspective and enhance the resilience of societies, while addressing their most pressing challenges. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the TICAD. We are committed to do so by respecting the solidarity and ownership of Africa, for the purpose of contributing to the recovery from the crises and regional stability.

I then traveled to Fiji and Mongolia, two countries affected by the geopolitical weight of major powers, in the fall of 2022. During my visit to Fiji, I reaffirmed to strengthen our collaboration to tackle climate change, which is of particular concern to Pacific Island nations, as well as to developing human resources that will support their economies and societies.

In Mongolia, I had the pleasure of commemorating the 50th anniversary of formal diplomatic relations between Japan and Mongolia. JICA has continuously supported Mongolia's development since its transition to democracy and a market economy in the early 1990s. However, during my visit, I noticed that current economic management was very challenging for the Mongolian government due to its interposition between China and Russia. Despite these challenges, I realized that Mongolia sees Japan as its "third neighbor," which shows the Mongolia's deep trust and willingness to collaborate regardless of Mongolia's geopolitical location. We would like to continue cooperation with Mongolia in developing its democracy and deepening our relationship of trust.

I started off this year, 2023, by visiting the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in the Philippines. JICA has been supporting reconstruction, livelihood improvement, and peace processes in conflict-affected areas of Mindanao for almost 30 years. I observed the reconstruction of these conflict-affected areas, including the school I visited seven years ago, and found that the Mindanao peace process is making steady progress. I also had the honor of being the first foreigner to speak in the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) Parliament, which adopted a resolution appreciating and commending JICA's cooperation in the Mindanao peace process over many years. I strongly believe that peace in Mindanao will lead to peace and stability not only in the Philippines but also in East Asia as a whole. We will continue our cooperation to ensure this promising peace process.

Last month, I visited India and met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, just prior to Prime Minister Kishida's visit to the country. My visit came at an auspicious time, since last year marked the 70th anniversary of formal diplomatic relations between the two countries. 2023 represents a pivotal year for Japan in its role as G7 chair, as well as for India as chair of the G20. Leadership and partnership between Japan and India are important not only for the bilateral relations, but also for the stability of the world order.

Prime Minister Modi expressed his strong hope for steady implementation of JICA-supported infrastructure projects, especially the construction of a high-speed rail between Mumbai and Ahmedabad utilizing Japanese Shinkansen technology. You may recall that former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Prime Minister Modi agreed to this project in 2015, which will act as a symbol of the close friendship between Japan and India.

I also agreed with Prime Minister Modi on the importance of people-to-people exchanges. Prime Minister Modi has shown great interest in promoting university cooperation between Japan and India, and in encouraging Indian students to study in Japan. Moving forward, JICA will contribute to the promotion of people-to-people exchanges with India as much as possible.

Now, I would like to focus my remaining remarks on how JICA is helping to advance human security in very challenging environments outside the context of my own travels.

Last month, Prime Minister Kishida visited Ukraine and committed to maintaining G7 unity in support of Ukraine as this year's G7 chair. Immediately after the Russian invasion last year, JICA provided an emergency development policy loan of approximately 600 million US dollars to address the Ukrainian government's financial needs. Then, JICA provided medical equipment to neighboring Moldova, which is hosting a total of 700,000 displaced Ukrainians.

Following that, JICA conducted seminars to share Japan's knowledge and experience in post-disaster waste management with a debris-stricken Ukraine. JICA also provided generators and solar lanterns as part of JICA's winterization support to the Ukrainian people. In January, we conducted the demining seminar in Cambodia using Japanese radar-based mine detector for the State Emergency Service of Ukraine. During the seminar, JICA collaborated with the Cambodian Mine Action Centre that Japan has long worked to strengthen mine clearance capacity. In addition, in March, we agreed to provide 22.4 billion yen in grant assistance to comprehensively support various recovery and reconstruction projects that the Ukrainian people need to restore their lives, including the provision of equipment for demining and debris removal, electricity, and water supply.

In all of its cooperation, JICA will first consider what is truly necessary for the people of Ukraine, and then focus on timely implementation of these projects. Furthermore, where applicable, we share our recovery and reconstruction efforts from devastating disasters.

Finally, I would like to touch on the Turkey-Syria Earthquake that occurred in February. As JICA is in charge of management of Japan's disaster relief operation, we had to respond very quickly. Fortunately, we were able to dispatch the first international emergency rescue team to Turkey just 12 hours after the earthquake. In addition, medical teams and specialist teams were dispatched one after another. A total of 265 people provided seamless emergency support for over a month. The medical team, for example, provided medical care to approximately 2,000 victims in a tented field hospital set up in Gaziantep, Turkey, in cooperation with local medical institutions.

Japan, which is also a natural disaster-affected country, has been cooperating with Turkey on disaster management for many years, and I heard that in some cases, teachers and students in the disaster-stricken areas were saved thanks to the knowledge and education on disaster management they learned through JICA's projects. In the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, it was Turkey that carried out rescue operations in Japan for three weeks. Recovery and reconstruction will take time, but on behalf of JICA, I promise to continue our mutual reconstruction assistance based on Japan's experience in disaster reconstruction.

In closing, let me touch on JICA's vision that is, "leading the world with trust". During the past year, as I traveled around the world, I was reminded of the importance of many "connections". I have seen examples of how connecting people across time and space can bring us closer to achieve peace and provide solutions to major challenges. Although geopolitical conflicts are escalating in some parts of the world, joint international action is essential to address many of the challenges arising from compounded global crises. JICA works together with our partner countries to find solutions, in response to individual needs of these countries. By emphasizing cooperation and coordination rather than division and confrontation, and by strengthening ties and creating new "connections" around the world, we hope to play an important role in solving global issues. I believe that this will help Japan demonstrate the importance of democracy and cooperation to our partner countries and contribute to maintaining international order. Welcome questions and comments. Thank you.

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