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Japan’s newly appointed Ambassador to Brunei Yamamoto Eiji pledged to continue strengthening cooperation with the sultanate by preserving several areas of priorities that are already established since 1984.

At the same time, he is also looking to improve and develop these areas by exploring new fields particularly in sports and tourism, but he also understood that his government is very keen on assisting Brunei with economic diversification agenda.

The ambassador who joined Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1980 was posted to South Korea and other countries, before coming to Brunei. He was also assigned to Timor-Leste as ambassador from 2014 to 2017.

The Bruneian recently had a sit-down with the new ambassador to learn more about his plans and the kind of cooperation he sought to bolster.

To be actively involved in Brunei’s economic diversification efforts

It is natural for diplomatic missions to target more involvements in Brunei’s economic diversification agendas, and Japan is no exception to this.

Brunei is currently weaning off from its dependence to oil and gas – and is currently looking for more alternatives to latch on, with sectors explored including agriculture, tourism and Info-Communication technology (ICT).

Understanding well on what Brunei looks to achieve, Ambassador Yamamoto said his government is keen on lending a hand in various areas should the sultanate needed it. 

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Areas that Japan contribute well, said the ambassador, include human capital development, technical capacity building and bringing in international investments.

“There are (already) a number of efforts being made but (we) would like to provide further assistance to achieve that goal,” he said.

Developing business partnerships

Brunei and Japan have enjoyed steady relations since 1984 and this can be seen via a number of bilateral collaborations, including in the fields of business and economy.

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Among the Brunei-Japan business deals Ambassador Yamamoto highlighted in the interview include the hydrogen production partnership between Brunei LNG and the Advanced Hydrogen Chain Association for Technology Development (AHEAD) conglomerate.

The Hydrogen Plant to be established under the partnership is expected to be in full operation this year.

Building on such progress, Ambassador Yamamoto hoped to introduced Japan’s International Corporation Agency (JICA) to Brunei – and see what kind of cooperation can be set from there.

JICA is a governmental agency tasked to coordinate official development assistance for Japan.  The agency’s main tasks revolved around assisting economic and social growth in developing countries, and the promotion of international cooperation.

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The ambassador believed that JICA can find Japanese businesses to come down to Brunei and help especially the small and medium enterprises to grow, especially those that are technologically capable.

Japan, said the ambassador, is also working closely to develop more research on halal products, especially via the partnership between its Osaka University and Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD).

“On the business side, Japan is promoting even more halal food as Japan has recorded an increasing number of Muslim travelers.”

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“With the Olympic games ahead of us, Japan will be expecting visits from Muslims from various parts of the world which is another reason why we should provide more halal food in Japan,” adding that Brunei can play an important role in promoting halal products. 

Currently, more than 10 Japanese companies are in Brunei operating in various sectors including Mitsubishi Corporation, Brunei Methanol Company, Tobishima Corporation, Tokio Marine Insurance, MC Biotech, Taberumo Biofarm (B), VAM BRN  – who have provided employment opportunities to the local workforce.

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To play a role in Brunei’s tourism development agendas 

With the launch of inaugural flights to Tokyo in March 2019, arrivals in both countries are made even seamless, said the ambassador. 

“I believe that contributes to the increase of tourists in both countries and since Japan has major events occurring soon, we are definitely expecting arrivals from all over the world including Brunei.”

“With this, more hotels in Japan are including halal food in their menu complete with information for foreigners in English to ensure a visitor-friendly environment.”

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Additionally, Ambassador Yamamoto encourages Japanese residents to visit the sultanate and immerse themselves in nature. 

“Brunei has amazing greenery and forests particularly in the Temburong district. The sultanate has a wonderful balance between nature and development and I think the residents and government are very thoughtful about keeping this balance.”

“While you are pursuing economic diversification, at the same time, the country is also protecting nature which is very admirable and I hope it will be maintained. I believe this is what we can learn from Brunei while mutually improving our tourism.”

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Linking Brunei and Japan through education

Another key area of cooperation the ambassador looks to strengthen is education where Japan continued to meet with officials from Brunei’s Ministry of Education to look for more fields it can be involved in.

“We met with representatives from the Ministry of Education to express this as we believe it’s very much important for the current as well as future generation.” 

He outlined notable developments between both countries including the number of Japanese universities collaborating with Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) to jointly conduct research on significant topics such as Halal Science, Nano Technology as well as health-related issues.

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Through this, he urged for collaboration in other areas as well as university level exchanges such as summer school programmes.

“Such opportunities will allow young Japanese students to experience a different culture and way of living. It is very safe here; people are friendly and speak very good English.”

Intensifying international exchanges

Since establishing official diplomatic ties back in 1984, Brunei and Japan have enjoyed several exchanges that spans not only to various sections in the government but also between youths, educators, athletes and non-profit groups.

Ambassador Yamamoto noted some of the notable exchanges including JENESYS – an exchange programme involving youths from various nationalities that was aimed at promoting mutual understanding and friendship with Japanese youths and citizens.

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He also noted that His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam’s presence in Japan during the coronation of the country’s new emperor had raised Brunei’s position in the country.

“That visit was very successful…more people now recognise the importance of the sultanate to Japan,” he said.

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Ambassador Yamamoto pledged to give his best in promoting these exchanges. He hoped that more programmes can be established particularly in the areas of youth and sports, as Japan will be hosting the Olympics in July this year.

He also looked forward to Brunei’s chairmanship of the ASEAN Summit in 2021, expecting more high-level of exchanges to occur surrounding the conference.

This article was first published on January 11, 2020 in our Weekly E-Paper issue 71

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