Japan wants to strengthen its cooperation with Timor-Leste, focusing on the infrastructure and basic social services sector, but increasingly seeking to develop human resources, the Japanese ambassador to Dili told.
“We now have three priority areas: building infrastructure, improving basic social services such as health, education, water and sanitation, and diversifying the economy,” Hiroshi Minami said in an interview.
The ambassador explained that “human exchange programs” are beginning to be implemented, such as the Genesis program, which “promotes exchanges of young people from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Japan [ASEAN].”
“Although Timor-Leste is not a member of ASEAN we have already included the country in this program. Perhaps with this kind of youth exchange, we can promote a mutual understanding,” he said.
“I also think that the Timorese Government intends to send workers to Japan and my government is seriously considering this possibility,” he said.
Hiroshi Minami explained that the Japanese Government has, with several developing countries, programs to support the construction of “quality infrastructures” which in the case of Timor-Leste included the construction of a new bridge in Dili, already delivered.
The new passenger terminal at the Port of Dili for domestic connections is still to be completed this year, with a $ 45 million support for the rehabilitation of Dili airport recently announced.
On average, the Japanese foreign aid to Timor-Leste is estimated at between the US $ 20 and 30 million (€ 17-26 million) a year, and technical cooperation in several areas, including “strengthening human ” in the country.
On the private sector, the diplomat admits that given the size of the Timorese market, and even thinking about any major projects around the Timor Sea, such as the Tasi Mane, it is still difficult to call investors to Timor-Leste.
“At this point, I do not think Japanese companies are interested in the Tasi Mane project, but I think the involvement of private companies in the development of this country is very important, so I have been trying to encourage Japanese companies to come to this country,” he said.
“Unfortunately the market is small and there are not many countries interested in this country, but I will continue efforts to attract Japanese investment,” he said.
Hiroshi Minami explains that his message is that Timor-Leste, despite being a post-conflict country, “is a peaceful and democratic society” and that the market is small but has “a large population of young talent“, creating so “space for Japanese companies to come here.”
In regional terms, the diplomat argues that in addition to CPLP, it would be particularly beneficial for Timor-Leste to join ASEAN, thereby strengthening its regional networks and allowing greater exposure to “new trade and economic relations in the region.”
Asked about China’s action in East Timor and a growing debate over China’s influence in the country, the diplomat admits he is growing but is not concerned.
“There are a lot of Chinese traders and businessmen coming to Timor-Leste, I do not say that they are influenced by Chinese government policy, but I note that China’s influence in this country is increasing,” he said.
“We have our own cooperation with Timor-Leste and China is also having a lot of cooperation with Timor-Leste. We are not in a position to want to compete, we seek is a friendly relationship and cooperation from Japan, China and Timor-Leste ” he said.
Elsewhere, the diplomat said that although it is important “to recognize the occupation of East Timor during World War II” by the Japanese forces, the country has since 1999 “been supporting the nation-building efforts.”
“We want to move forward and look to a prosperous future,” he said.