Remarks by Prof. Akiko Yamanaka
Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan

at the Meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the South-East European Cooperation Process(SEECP), Thessaloniki, Greece

3 May 2006

It is a great honor for me to be invited to this Meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the SEECP as a guest, and on behalf of the Government of Japan, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to the Hellenic Republic, the host country of today's meeting, for making the outstanding arrangements for the Meeting.

1. Regional Ownership: the role of SEECP in view of the future

Japan welcomes the fact that the SEECP, the sole forum for regional cooperation among the countries of Southeastern Europe, is strengthening regional ownership and making progress toward concrete regional cooperation. Japan supports the integration of the Southeastern European countries into the European Union and considers that the SEECP can accelerate the European integration process by promoting regional cooperation in Southeastern Europe. Japan is also of the view that the SEECP will gradually take over the role of the Stability Pact in Southeastern Europe, and believes that the institutional enhancement of the SEECP will strengthen regional ownership.

At the same time, regional cooperation will become more effective through cooperation with countries outside the region. Promotion of tourism and cooperation against cross-border crime are examples of such extended cooperation.

Regional cooperation in the field of tourism serves not only to promote local businesses by increasing the number of travelers from outside the region, but also to promote mutual understanding among countries within the region. With this in mind, Japan co-hosted a tourism workshop of the West Balkans with Bosnia and Herzegovina last autumn in cooperation with the SEECP, and it now plans to hold the next workshop in Belgrade.

In the field of cooperation against cross-border crime, it is necessary to strengthen both inter and intra-regional cooperation. With this aim, Japan supported the "Seminar on Security and Stability in Southeastern Europe" organized by the Center for the Study of Democracy in Sofia, which focused on measures to combat the problems related to the underground economy and cross-border organized crime.

2. Regional Economic Cooperation

Other important fields for regional cooperation by the SEECP are transportation infrastructure and energy. Japan welcomes the recent progress by the SEECP in the establishment of a high performance railway network in Southeastern Europe. It is expected that the upgrading of transportation infrastructure, together with initiatives to establish a free trade area in the region, will produce widespread economic benefits. Japan is ready to examine eligible infrastructure projects in Southeastern Europe such as the rehabilitation of roads through the provision of Yen loans. Japan has already supported the projects for the rehabilitation of ports in Romania and Bulgaria, which contribute not only to the expansion of logistical capability, but also to increasing energy transportation across Europe.

Japan also expects that cooperation by the SEECP in the field of energy will be further strengthened, and considers that such cooperation is also important from the viewpoint of energy security in Europe.

3. Kosovo and Regional Cooperation

Finally, I would like to briefly mention on Kosovo. Japan believes that future stability in Kosovo depends on Kosovo's future status that enables Kosovo to cooperate with the surrounding region. Japan considers that the efforts by the SEECP toward regional cooperation will provide the necessary background for the progress in the status talks on Kosovo. Japan also believes that the outcome of the status talks depends on how successfully minority rights can be protected and decentralization attained. For this purpose, the success of multi-ethnic community building in Kosovo is of overriding importance. I think it would be beneficial for Kosovo if the SEECP countries, particularly Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, share their experiences in promoting ethnic reconciliation.

Japan hosted the "Seminar on Community Building in the Multi-ethnic Societies of the Western Balkans", which I chaired in March this year in Tokyo with participants from the SEECP countries and international organizations.

Many issues were raised at the Seminar. Lack of trust, apathy, poverty, and unemployment are problems which become obstacles to community building. Many participants shared the view of the importance of capacity building at the community level, including job creation, the upgrading of educational and public health infrastructure, and the formation of a multi-ethnic local police force.

Most of these matters apply to the case of Kosovo. Japan will continue to assist capacity building at the local level in Kosovo as well as in other parts of the region by utilizing its Grassroots Human Security Grant Aid.

In order to do so, I will visit Kosovo after this meeting and meet political leaders.

It goes without saying that reconciliation among the countries of the region and the establishment of mutual trust are indispensable to regional cooperation. Building personal relations of trust among political leaders is an essential factor. Today's meeting clearly shows that progress is being made in this regard. Japan welcomes the promotion of political dialogue through the SEECP, and I sincerely hope that tomorrow's SEECP Summit Meeting will be a great success.

In conclusion, I would like to introduce a saying of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, which I found while studying at Oxford.

"It is more difficult to organize peace than to win a war. But the fruit of victory will be soon lost if peace is not well organized."

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