In 1989, British author and ethnic Japanese Sir Kazuo Ishiguro published a Nobel Prize-winning novel titled “The Remains of the Day.” The protagonist, Stevens, is a butler with a long record of loyal service, dignity and self-sacrifice at Darlington Hall, a stately home near Oxford, England. It is one of the most widely hailed books in recent history and was turned into a highly regarded film starring Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson and James Fox, released in 1993. It is also one of His Excellency Mikami Masahiro’s favourite novels. The Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan in the Kingdom of Cambodia can be said to reflect Stevens’ uncompromising fealty and selfless sense of duty.
Under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, an ambassador has the highest diplomatic rank. Because of the advent of modern technology, today’s societies have become interconnected. With this in mind, it is considered important that nations worldwide have at least a small staff living in foreign capitals that will to aid travellers and visitors from their home nation. As an officer of the foreign service, an ambassador is expected to protect the citizens of their home country in the host country.
Another result of the increase in foreign travel is the growth of trade between nations. For most countries, the national economy is now part of the global economy. This means increased opportunities to sell and trade with other nations. When two nations are conducting a trade, it is usually advantageous to both parties to have an ambassador and perhaps a small staff living in the other land, where they act as an intermediary between cooperative businesses.
One of the cornerstones of foreign diplomatic missions is to work for peace. This task can grow into a fight against international terrorism, the drug trade, international bribery and human trafficking. Ambassadors help stop these acts, helping people across the globe. These activities are important and sensitive and are usually carried out in coordination with the foreign ministry of the state and the head of the government.
As such, it is not hard to see that Ambassador Mikami has much on his plate and is on call 24 hours a day. In many ways he has to be like the butler in The Remains of the Day. He appreciated its style, finding it an easy read in English, but his duties are non-fictional and globally significant.
The ambassador maintains his composure under tough questioning and has a ready answer. In short, he is on top of his job, despite only being appointed for a little over six months, arriving in September last year and immediately saying he was delighted to be working in a country with such a rich cultural history. In person, he is warm and considerate.
“It is my great honour and pleasure to come to Cambodia, a close friend of Japan and a country of wonderful culture,” he said on the embassy’s official Facebook page. The list of Japan’s official development assistance in Cambodia is extraordinarily long and varied. It focuses on three priorities: industrial development, improvement of quality of life and fostering a sustainable society through the strengthening of governance.
The first priority includes the construction of the Kizuna Bridge across the Mekong and the Neak Loeung Bridge as well as the Chroy Changvar (Japan Bridge), the building of a hydropower plant in Rattankiri province, rehabilitation and expansion of the Sihanoukville Port and associated facilities, improving the country’s logistics and road maintenance, helping with flood disasters and mitigation, improving the investment environment, expanding distribution lines in the southern economic corridor, developing the Greater Mekong Power Network, enhancing industrial human relations, building teacher education colleges and schools and promoting agriculture and aquaculture.
The second priority includes various projects to improve bus services, water supply and sewerage systems and building and improving the Sunrise Japan Hospital, National Tuberculosis Centre and the National Maternal and Child Health Centre in Phnom Penh, improving several other hospitals and medical equipment management as well funding the capital’s Institute of Technology of Cambodia. The third priority includes strengthening the legal system and administrative functions, better managing the environment and removing mines and unexploded ordnance.
The assistance to Cambodia is not limited to that from the Government of Japan. Japanese NGOs have also been active in such sectors as education, health and agriculture. For example, more than 1,000 schools out of about 9,000 in Cambodia have been constructed by Japanese NGOs. Also, the Japanese Government not only has worked closely with the central government of Cambodia but also has developed assistance schemes to help local governments and NGOs directly. So why is Cambodia the subject of such Japanese largesse? Ambassador Mikami pointed out a major context: Cambodia is important to Japan in that it has occupied a special place in Japan’s post-war foreign policy since the late 1980s and early 1990s when it was seeking a bigger role in maintaining peace and stability in the region.
After the end of World War II through much of the Cold War period, Japan put a high priority on its own economic development with a relatively low profile diplomatic posture under the security protection of the United States. But towards the end of the Cold War, Japan realised that, with its accumulated economic power, it had to be more active in contributing to forging a new order in the fluid world. This coincided with a new movement for peace in Cambodia, and was also triggered by the rapidly changing international situation in the late 1980s. Japan saw Cambodia as the first country in which it could positively contribute to peacekeeping by using its experience of reconstruction following its own defeat in World War II.
Japan got heavily involved in talks with Cambodia before the signing of the so-called Paris Peace Agreement on peace in Cambodia by 19 nations on Oct 23, 1991. It was the culmination of a few years of intensive negotiations, said Ambassador Mikami. Following the Paris Peace Agreement, Japan legislated a PKO law in 1992, and dispatched its first-ever peacekeeping force to Cambodia in 1992 to help the general election in 1993 administered by UNTAC (United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia), whose head was Mr Akashi Yasushi, then Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and Chief of Mission in Cambodia.
“Cambodia has kind of a special place in our hearts,” said the ambassador. “If this region was unstable and poor, it would affect Japan negatively so we are happy to have contributed substantially and successfully.”
Ambassador Mikami said Japan also extended extensive economic assistance to other ASEAN countries. In those places, many Japanese private companies also made huge investments, contributing to the economic growth of the region.
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