Andrey Fabrichnikov about Russia and Japan: Cooperation targeting the future
Two young specialists of the Hokkaido Intellect Tank (HIT) Planning Department met with Mr. Andrey Arkadievich Fabrichnikov, the Consul-General of the Russian Federation in Sapporo, Japan. They talked with the Consul-General about the 25-year history of the Russia-Japan relationships, the role Hokkaido plays in them, and inquired his opinion about the prospects of future development for both countries.
HIT: What are the main changes that have occurred in the Russia-Japan relationships since the collapse of the Soviet Union?
Consul: When I assumed the office in the Ministry 33 years ago, the trade turnover between the USSR and Japan was relatively small - around USD 5 billion. During the Soviet period the import fr om Japan was confined mostly to electrical appliances, while export - to natural resources, such as black coal and crude oil. When former President Boris Yeltcin visited Japan in 1998, the trade relations between our countries improved significantly; after President Putin’s inauguration, the progress was even more remarkable. In Russia, development of natural deposits is carried on: in 2009 we started supply of liquid natural gas (LNG) to Japan from the Sakhalin region. Japan’s major car manufacturers entered the Russian market. In 2015 the trade turnover between Russia and Japan amounted to USD 20.9 billion, in 2016 decreased to USD 16.4 billion. However, the volume of natural resources exported to Japan is substantially larger than the volume of import, which means that the trade balance is not achieved. Japanese goods are quite expensive, but they are valued in Russia for top-quality. To name an example, the fruits grown on Hokkaido were immediately sold out at the trade fair of Japanese farm products in Khabarovsk. This proves that many Russians do not like to pay twice for cheap products.
HIT: Does the growth of the total trade stimulate cultural cooperation between Russia and Japan?
Consul: Tourism, sports and cultural exchange existed to a certain extent during the Soviet period, but the number of Soviet tourists travelling to Japan was extremely small compared to the present time. However, since the emergence of the modern Russia, we can see improvements in these fields. Recently, I have come across an article in the Hokkaido Shinbun newspaper titled “Increase in number of Russian tourists visiting Japan by 22 % due to streamlining of visa regulations”. Nevertheless, as our countries are geographical neighbors, the travel industry still has room for growth.
Moreover, Russia and Japan are now collaborating in the civil defense and public security sectors, which was unthinkable in the USSR.
If it had not been for the crisis in Ukraine in 2014, the diplomatic relations between Russia and Japan would have flourished. In March 2014 I was in Tokyo and witnessed a cooldown in cooperation following the Russia-Japan Economic Forum. We saw a certain revival of interest only after our leaders held 3 official meetings last year. In December 2016 President Putin visited Japan, and the agreements made at the talks received high appraisal at both sides. Moreover, such executives as Mr. Oreshkin, Minister of Economic Development, and Mr. Manturov, Minister of Industry and Commerce, also paid an official visit to Japan.
The leaders of the two states met at the G20 Summit in Hamburg in July, their next meeting is planned for September at the Far East Economic Forum in Vladivostok. I can say that currently the diplomatic relations between our countries develop in a preferable direction.
HIT: What role does the Far East play for Russia?
Consul: Do you know that the national emblem of the Russian Federation is a two-headed eagle? One head is turned to Europe while the other to Asia. The Far East is a sparsely inhabited region, which is far away from the European portion of Russia. It is essential for Russia to build a secure foundation between Europe and Asia to enhance economic development and balanced distribution of population. I think that in the near future the Far East will play a crucial role in the relations with China, Japan, Korea and the countries of Southeast Asia.
HIT: Russia sees Japan as its business partner. Are there any cultural or social barriers that can impede forming partnership between our countries?
Consul: The way of doing business in two countries is different. The Russians consider the Japanese too deliberate at the stages of research and planning. To them, a long time passes since inception of a project to its implementation. But once the production is started, the Japanese become extremely reliable partners. Unlike Japan, in China decisions are made very fast, by the first-come first-served principle.
Yet, I have noticed that on Hokkaido small and medium enterprises are more agile in taking decisions compared to other prefectures in Japan. Residents of Hokkaido are not afraid to take up the running, there is a pioneer spirit in them. They are pioneers indeed in organizing business with Russia. As people say, early bird catches the worm, and I wish that such proactive business attitude would maintain in the future.
HIT:This is true, Hokkaido works hard to strengthen ties with Russia. For example, Hokkaido’s governor Ms. Takahashi plans to visit the Economic Forum in Ekaterinburg.
Consul: The drop in the exchange rate of ruble to yen provides a great opportunity for Russian companies to promote export of domestic goods to Japan. There are many products we are proud of that are not presented at the Japan’s market. I am sure that Russian chocolate, for instance, will be very popular in Sapporo. At the International Culture Week held in November 2015, the consulate general presented our national drink - rye beer (“kwass” in Russian). Actually, we have many tasty drinks besides vodka.
HIT: By the way, a Sakhalin company that specializes in producing double-glazing units seized the opportunity to enter the Japan’s market by opening an office in Sapporo.
Consul: Yes, if Russian companies take a more proactive attitude in Japan, it would in turn enhance the economic integration of the regions. The primary task of our government is to take all the required measures for providing support to small and medium enterprises.
HIT: What are the reasons for success or failure of joint business?
Consul: This is business and there is no cure-all solution. There are many successful projects, and those that failed. In general, large-scale businesses accomplish their goals quite effectively, while for small and medium enterprises it may turn out differently. As a success story, I would like to mention Hokko, a small Japanese greenhouse manufacturer that has an office in Yakutsk.
HIT: Hokkaido is closest to the Russian border compared with other Japan’s prefectures. Do you feel close to Russia living on Hokkaido?
Consul:The other day I went to Otaru, a town 42 km away from Sapporo. The same distance separates the nothernmost Japan’s town Wakkanai from Sakhalin. Geographically, our countries are very close neighbors. Yet, psychologically the distance seems to be much greater. I have been walking in the Odori Park recently when a Japanese asked me wh ere I came from. I said that I am from a country closest to Hokkaido. In response I heard that I did not resemble a Chinese and must be an American. An idea that I meant Russia did not occur to him. The Japanese perceive Russia as a distant neighbor. Despite the fact that in Nemuro and Wakkanai the signs are written in Russian alongside Japanese, the town administration gives announcements in Russian, the Japanese do not have a sense of being close with Russia. As a matter of fact, I was very much surprised when I heard that there are only two or three Russian restaurants in Sapporo, which is very few compared to Tokyo. The Russian cuisine is quite popular on Hokkaido though. In contrast, there are very many Japanese restaurants in Russia, one can enjoy Japanese sushi almost in any city or town.
HIT: Russia borders on many countries. What are the main cooperation principles in the borderline areas?
Consul: The trade is actively conducted at the Russian-Chinese border along the Amur river and the Blagoveshchensk-Heihe free-trade zone. Unlike Japan, the visa obtaining procedures to enter these territories are streamlined: multiple entry visas can be issued to those who regularly come for shopping and recreation, to enjoy restaurants and saunas. The signs are in Russian, shop assistants speak Russian, demonstrating immediate proximity to the neighboring country. As for Russian-Norwegian border, the entry and departure procedures for those living in the bordering areas are much simpler compared to other citizens. No invitation letter is required to apply for a visa. Actually, instead of a visa, all one needs is a travel card, which is issued upon submission of a document proving that a person is resident of neighboring territories. If such a system is adopted for the Russia-Japan border, the people of Wakkanai could go to Sakhalin for shopping any time they like with a travel card only. In turn, the Sakhalin residents wishing to eat fresh sushi could travel to Wakkanai without putting any stamps in their passports.
HIT: Do the Russians know anything about Hokkaido?
Consul: It depends on the region. Speaking of people who live on Sakhalin, they know about Hokkaido and Japan in general quite well, but those who live in the European part of Russia may not have heard of it. Popular Japanese promotional videos “Yokoso Japan” presenting Japan’s cities are featured on Russian TV, but the locations introduced include Tokyo, Kyoto and Nara while Hokkaido is rarely mentioned. In my opinion, to boost Hokkaido’s popularity we need wide-scale PR, such as participation in international exhibitions.
HIT: In their turn, the Japanese are not very well informed about the diversity of the Russian regions.
Consul: That is correct, at best they know the capitals - Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Speaking of food, they heard of borshch and piroshki, popular souvenirs – matryoshka. Yet there are many fascinating places spread out between the Far East and the Central Region. For those interested in eco-tourism Kamchatka is a great attraction. The mountain landscape there resembles the scenery of Honshu, the biggest island of the Japanese archipelago. Ulan-Ude, the capital of the Buryat Republic, is a wonderful city. This year it has been 45 years of friendship between Ulan-Ude and the Japanese town of Rumoi. By the way, Mr. Morihiro Iwata from the ballet company of the Bolshoi works as an art director at the State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet in Ulan-Ude.
Undoubtedly, Moscow and Saint Petersburg are rich in attractions, but smaller cities are also worth visiting. The problem is that they lack advertising. At the International Culture Week arranged every November, the consulates introduce their countries at special stands. We try to represent, besides Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Sakhalin, less known regions of Russia.
HIT: Do you like the life on Hokkaido?
Consul: It was love from the first sight with this place. The climate in Sapporo is very similar to the one I was used to living in Moscow. Although, this year turned out to be very cold, I was astonished to hear that it was snowing in Moscow even in May.
HIT: You have been living and working in Tokyo for a long time.
Consul: At the farewell party in Tokyo my Japanese friends told me that they envied me a little for my relocation to Sapporo. They said the food is good here and lifestyle more easy-going. This is true, the food is great, there are many hot springs, such as Jozankei that I visited several times. But I have no time for rest now - there is very much work to do. Of course, I look forward to the seasonal events in the Odori Park, but in between the holidays I must work hard. Soon we will enjoy the Lilac Festival, then the Beer and Autumn Festivals. By the way, a team from Sakhalin is going to represent Russia at the Yosakoi Festival this year. For the first time in several years, a team from Novosibirsk will participate in the Snow Festival next year.
HIT: Novosibirsk borrowed the idea of a Snow Festival from its twin city Sapporo. Since then it has been celebrated every January starting from 2000.
Consul: If we want to encourage such cultural exchange and increase tourist flow, we need to improve transport linkages. There is a direct flight from Chitose to Sakhalin, but it takes 12 hours to travel to Novosibirsk. It is a hard journey for children. Last summer a youth team from Sapporo participated in the Children of Asia Sports Games in Yakutsk. Unfortunately, it was hard for the children to compete after a long tiresome flight. Many airlines provide low-cost flights from Sapporo to Malaysia. To arrange a similar transport network that can provide cheap regular flights between Russia and Japan, we need to increase the demand for such flights among the population.
HIT: Last year HIT organized a study tour to Russia for 30 Japanese students. What is your message to the younger generation that is becoming an eager participant in the cultural exchange?
Consul: To put it shortly, learn. In terms of studies, cooperation between younger people plays a crucial role - such cooperation becomes a basis for friendship and trust between states.
Personally, I came to Japan in 1985 when I was 23, and I still keep in touch with the Japanese friends I made during that period. Social connections can make work much easier. It would be great if young Russians and Japanese explore each other’s culture and share knowledge. The Internet offers ample opportunities to do that.
Speaking of cooperation, occasionally I meet with the Hokkaido governor Ms. Takahashi and vice-governor, and we exchange opinions. We discussed the event schedule for the next year and discovered that it includes many activities aimed at promoting partnership between our countries.
Besides, Ms. Takahashi intends to participate in the Ekaterinburg Economic Forum “Inoprom 2017”. We have connections established between the schools in Asahikawa, Hakodate, Yamahanaminami Junior School in Sapporo and gymnasia in Novosibirsk. In total, 15 towns and villages on Hokkaido have 19 twins in Russia. Until recently, we have put an emphasis on sports, cultural cooperation and human exchange, but now economic integration between the twin towns comes to the forefront.
“Cooperation for the future” is the key phrase that can be used to describe the new stage of the Russia-Japan diplomatic relations. In other words, by encouraging interaction at the grass-roots level, we can form a sound basis for international cooperation.
Property of the Hokkaido Intellect Tank, Planning Department
Responsible researchers: Nakanishi Ryohei, Komiyama Haruka
Translation from Japanese by Natalie Ageyeva
TagsFabrichnikov, consul, diplomat, diplomatic relations, Japan, Sapporo, image of Russia,