Attendance by Foreign Minister Taro Aso at the SAARC Summit
(Summary and Overall Evaluation)
April 9, 2007
On April 3, Minister for Foreign Affairs Taro Aso attended the Fourteenth South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit being held in India. He delivered a statement as a representative of the Government of Japan at the inaugural session in the morning and held bilateral talks with leaders of the SAARC member countries and others.
(Japan as well as the United States, the European Union (EU), the People's Republic of China and the Republic of Korea participated in the SAARC Summit as observers for the first time. The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan officially became a member of SAARC.)
(1) Foreign Minister Aso stated that Japan would regard South Asia, which continues to grow economically and shares the common values of democracy, freedom, and rule of law, as a center of the "Arc of Freedom and Prosperity," and would encourage regional cooperation in South Asia on the basis of the history of good relations between Japan and the countries in this region. Specifically, he proposed the following three areas of cooperation.
a) Democratization and peace building: Foreign Minister Aso stated that Japan would support the democratization and peace process in Nepal and the Kingdom of Bhutan. (He conveyed to the respective leaders of relevant countries that Japan has decided to provide 3.6 billion yen (30 million US dollars) to "Bhutan Local Electrification Project" as the first yen loan to Bhutan and that Japan has dispatched six unarmed arms monitors to the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN).)
b) Support for the promotion of regional cooperation: Foreign Minister Aso said that in order to help improve regional connectivity, Japan would consider support for SAARC's priority projects. He also stated that Japan would provide concrete support in the area of disaster reduction: a common challenge for SAARC.
c) Promotion of people-to-people exchanges: Foreign Minister Aso stated that in order to promote people-to-people exchanges between Japan and the SAARC countries, Japan has contributed approximately 7 million US dollars to the SAARC-Japan Special Fund. Utilizing the Fund, Japan will undertake various exchange programmes such as internships in Japanese companies (for university students) and promotion of private-sector cooperation between young entrepreneurs from Japan and South Asia.
(2) On April 4, discussions were held among the member countries alone and the Summit concluded with the adoption of the New Delhi Declaration. The Declaration recognized the importance of connectivity and stated that the SAARC member countries would promote cooperation in the areas of developing regional transport infrastructure, implementation of the South Asia Free Trade Area (SAFTA), and the SAARC Development Fund (SDF) for poverty alleviation and combating terrorism. They also agreed on the establishment of the South Asian University and the SAARC Food Bank. The participation of the Islamic Republic of Iran in SAARC as an observer was approved.
2. Bilateral talks (afternoon of April 3)
(1) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India
(a) Prime Minister Singh stated that Foreign Minister Aso's attendance at the SAARC Summit was highly welcome and that Japan-India cooperation in SAARC would form part of the "Japan-India Strategic and Global Partnership." Foreign Minister Aso responded that India was a keystone in the "Arc of Freedom and Prosperity."
(b) Foreign Minister Aso stated that the development of economic exchanges between Japan and India has developed remarkably. For example, he said that by February this year the number of Japanese companies in India had risen 50% to 480, from a figure of 328 in February the previous year. He also said that Japan signed an Exchange of Notes with India on yen loan projects of 185 billion yen (1.5 billion US dollars) in late March, and that India has become the largest recipient country for yen loans for the fourth consecutive year. Foreign Minister Aso also stated that Japan would like to utilize ODA for India from a strategic perspective. Prime Minister Singh expressed his gratitude for India's becoming the largest recipient country for yen loans from Japan. He requested cooperation from Japan with regard to the Dedicated Freight Corridor Project. Foreign Minister Aso said that Japan would continue to positively consider support for the project.
(c) Both sides confirmed continuous cooperation on regional and international issues such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the United Nations (UN).
(d) With regard to Nepal, Foreign Minister Aso stated that Japan has dispatched six unarmed members of the Self-Defense Forces to UNMIN as military observers and that Japan would like to continue to cooperate with India in this regard. Prime Minister Singh responded by saying that the leaders of Nepal are making their utmost efforts towards a resolution through dialogue. He also said that the international community needs to cooperate as well and that India would like to cooperate closely with Japan, including on the provision of information.
(e) Regarding the issue of civil nuclear cooperation, Prime Minister Singh stated that the issue would be discussed in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), and he requested Japan's support in this regard. Foreign Minister Aso responded that Japan is currently examining its stance.
(f) During a brief exchange of views with Minister of External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee, Foreign Minister Aso requested India's support regarding a resolution of the human rights situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).
(2) Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan
(a) Foreign Minister Aso stated that the steady development of Pakistan as an enlightened, moderate Islamic nation is important for peace and stability in the region and that Japan welcomes Pakistan's moves to strengthening democracy, including the general elections scheduled for the later half of this year. He also praised Pakistan's engagement in the fight against terrorism even at great costs to the country and stated that Japan hopes Pakistan will continue making efforts toward stability in Afghanistan.
(b) Foreign Minister Aso said that in December of last year Japan signed two yen loan projects totaling 23 billion yen (192 million US dollars), including the Indus Highway Construction Project, and that Japan would continue to provide support to Pakistan. Prime Minister Aziz praised Japan for resuming yen loans.
(3) President Mahinda Rajapaksa of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
(a) With regard to the peace process in Sri Lanka, Foreign Minister Aso mentioned the following two points: the strong side (namely, the Sri Lankan Government) needs to be more patient, and economic investment will come only after conflict resolution and stability have been achieved. He stated that Japan would not involve itself politically but that it can contribute to conflict resolution economically, citing the planned "Corridor for Peace and Prosperity" in the Middle East as an example. President Rajapaksa explained that there is a very complicated situation and that the terrorist organization of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is threatening the Sri Lankan people. Both sides will continue to cooperate toward the achievement of peace.
(b) Foreign Minister Aso extended an invitation to President Rajapaksa to visit Japan this fiscal year, and President Rajapaksa expressed his gratitude.
3. Overall Evaluation
(1) The Summit was the first opportunity for Japan to participate in SAARC as an observer. Foreign Minister Aso explained directly to the SAARC leaders that Japan attaches great importance to the relationship with South Asia, which makes up a central pillar of the "Arc of Freedom and Prosperity" and has a long tradition of embracing democracy. He also mentioned concrete policies to support SARRC, as well.
(2) With the leaders of the SAARC countries introducing their own efforts towards democratization and peace building, Foreign Minister Aso's announcement that Japan will support democratization and peace building matched the interests of the leaders. Also, with regard to improving regional connectivity, which India had put forth as a main topic, Japan expressed its stance of supporting priority projects, thus meeting the expectations of the SAARC side.
(3) The statement delivered by Foreign Minister Aso cited in detail the history of friendship between Japan and South Asia (e.g. the achievements of "Dasho" Keiji Nishioka in Bhutan, a statement by former Sri Lankan President J. R. Jayewardene and Japan's receiving the "Green Leaf" Award from the Republic of Maldives for ODA), which struck a chord with the leaders and ministers of the countries at the Summit.
(4) Through opportunities to stand and talk and to have bilateral talks, Foreign Minister Aso exchanged views with the leaders of almost all of the SAARC member countries and confirmed the further promotion of cooperative relationship with each of the countries.
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