By Ramesh Jaura and Katsuhiro Asagiri
BERLIN | TOKYO (IDN) – "My tenure in India was an awakening to me," says Hideaki Domichi who was Japan's Ambassador to that huge country with a population of more than 1.2 billion, which is "very poor" but also has "very rich people who are trading globally".
Having spent some four decades with Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and as a diplomat in the U.S., Egypt, Iran, Indonesia and India, Mr Domichi is not only immune to any "cultural shocks", as he said, but also capable of shedding prejudices and willing to open up to new ideas and perceptions.
He retired from the MOFA and joined its extended arm, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in 2012 as its Vice President. Four years later, after retirement in 2016, he was appointed as its Adviser.
We met Mr Domichi in November 2016 in Tokyo at the office of DEVNET Japan General Foundation's President Fumiyasu Akegawa. Keen to benefit from his experiences in international cooperation, Mr Akegawa had won him over as an Adviser – and honoured his services to international cooperation in different capacities by bestowing the prestigious Higashikuninomiya International Cultural Award.
Accepting the award, he said: "I understand that the award which I am bestowed is based on a philosophy deriving from interest in and respect towards different cultures, to sow seeds to create a new wave of international exchanges. Personally, I consider it an opportunity given to me to join a platform of people active in various fields."
DEVNET Japan advisers are like Mr Domichi retired diplomats and other former senior officials from different walks of life who have contributed considerably to strengthening relations between Japan and countries around the world. Some of the advisers also hail from a few Southeast Asian countries. They share the values DEVNET Japan embodies: to promote development cooperation with both partners on an equal footing.
In a video interview (attached), Mr Domichi talked at length not only about Egypt's culture and civilization, but also about India. Before he went to India as Ambassador in 2007, he had an image, a perception of the country that was broadly shared by Japanese at that time – an image that India is a very big country and poor and difficult to do business with.
"On the other hand, I found that my counterparts, ambassadors from Europe and the U.S. and their businessmen looked at India as a future economic giant," noted Mr Domichi.
"But it didn't take long before I realised that cultivating prejudicial perceptions would serve little purpose when we are trying to expand relations with that country. While it is true that lots of people are very poor but at the same time you come across people who are very rich. They are trading globally," added Mr Domichi, and praised the high level of education being given at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and the Indian Institute of Management (IIM).
Before long he realised that India was making progress on all fronts. Its Gross Domestic Product in 2007 was worth 1238.7 billion US dollars and it was growing. In 2015 it had risen to 2073.54 billion US dollars.
When he joined JICA as Vice President in 2012, Mr Domichi was well versed in issues the Japanese agency was dealing with, supporting projects in developing countries with official development assistance (ODA) funds.
In 2015, Japan's ODA amounted to 9320 million US dollars constituting 0.22% of Gross National Income (GNI), making the country one of the leading donor nations.
While with JICA, further to promoting traditional projects focusing on infrastructure development in Asia, Africa and Latin America, he made a concerted effort to fostering projects which support overseas expansion of small and medium-sized business, stimulate exchanges between Japanese Universities and those in developing countries, and support nurturing industrial work force in developing countries. "These activities were carried out in close coordination with government activities," Mr Domichi said.
Japan, he added, is still the world's third largest economy – thanks very much to its industrial might, technological prowess, and human resources. Japan’s strength has been developed in tandem with internationalization. In order for Japan to further develop in the future, Japan would need to further strengthen internationalization.
"I personally think that the world will be more and more evolving around developing countries. The problem of aging populations with the diminishing number of children is not only characteristic of Japan but is also getting serious in other developed countries, and the world demand is most surely shifting to developing countries," said Mr Domichi.
Besides, many developing countries have been producing "a great number of best and brightest" human resources. In order for Japan to find out solutions to global issues, push innovations, find new markets and explore opportunities for profit, he believes that "it would be essential to cooperate with the best and brightest from developing countries" – and in some cases select those who have the potential to fit into that category, and support them achieve expertise to mutual benefit.
Mr Domichi came to know DEVNET President Akegawa only recently and was highly impressed by his "innovative approach" to fostering development in countries, which have not yet crossed the threshold to industrialisation but have young people who are willing to go the whole hog in contributing their share to grassroots development for the benefit of the common man and woman.
Such initiatives involve public-private partnership (PPP) that calls for carefully worked out projects because the ODA is public money. "But his (Mr Akegawa's idea is not only "interesting" but also "fresh and insightful" and involves small amounts of money – and has, therefore a chance of succeeding.
Among the project ideas DEVNET Japan is pursuing relates to Southeast Asian countries – Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. It envisages helping establish agricultural cooperatives (co-ops) similar to those in Japan that supply members with input for production, undertake packaging, transportation, and marketing of agricultural products, and provide financial services. (30 December 2016)
Photo: DEVNET Japan President Akegawa (left) and former JICA Vice President Hideaki Domichi (right), recipient of a prestigious award. Credit: Devnet Japan
This article is part of IDN’s media project jointly with Global Cooperation Council and DEVNET Japan.