President of the Republic of Lithuania

Lecture delivered by President Gitanas Nausėda at Gifu University in Japan

2019-10-24

Mr. President,

Mr. Governor,

Mr. Mayor,

Dear Professors and Students of Gifu University,

Dear Guests,

I am deeply privileged to have the opportunity to present my vision of relations between two nations here in Gifu, the historic center of Japan. I believe that the ties between Lithuania and Japan have never been closer. And they will certainly grow stronger in the years ahead.

It so happens that Gifu – like no other prefecture in Japan – reflects the spirit of togetherness between our two countries the best. This is well demonstrated by the contacts that Gifu University maintains with higher educational establishments in Lithuania.

True, if we look from Lithuania’s perspective, Japan may seem a far-away mysterious and enigmatic country. Today, however, geographical isolation is bridged by modern technologies. Lithuanians are discovering Japan in greater intensity, while visitors from Japan are coming to Lithuania in increasing numbers. Dynamic political, cultural, scientific, and business ties are being established.

But that’s not how it has always been. For long centuries, Lithuania and Japan had no direct contacts. Paradoxically, it was the Mongols who broke – in a symbolic sense – the geographical barriers between our countries. In the 13th century, the Mongols launched incursions into Lithuania. Later, they came up against the resilience and determination of Japanese defenders.

Here, we can see some similarities. It was not only the Divine Wind (kamikaze) that helped the Japanese to repulse Mongol invasions, but also their ability to come together in the face of serious external danger. Just like our forebears who fought in impenetrable forests and swamps created their own state – the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

However, direct contacts between our nations were still a long time away. In the times of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Japan resented any interaction with the West. Lithuania, during the same period, was falling under the rule of Russia and was eventually subjugated by the Tsarist Empire. When Japanese diplomats visited Kaunas for the first time in 1862, they found only Russian governmental institutions there.

The situation started to change rapidly at the beginning of the 20th century. Russia’s unexpected defeat in the Russo-Japanese War was a shock to many Lithuanian intellectuals, encouraging their interest in Japanese culture and society. The Land of the Rising Sun no longer seemed to be remote and unreachable. World War I that erupted shortly after paved the way for the restoration of Lithuanian independence. Bilateral diplomatic relations were established and on 20 December 1922 Japan recognized the independent state of Lithuania.

Japan became actively engaged in the sensitive matter of Lithuanian state borders – which helped to expand bilateral ties between the two countries. At the same time, Japanese culture was making its way to Lithuania. In the provisional capital Kaunas, for example, mandatory jiu jitsu training was introduced for all police school students. The well-known Lithuanian writer and journalist Matas Šalčius visited Japan several times, sharing travel impressions in his publications.

Although geopolitical upheavals quashed Lithuanian independence once again, the foundations for friendship and cooperation between the two nations had already been laid. Paradoxically, the sufferings endured by both countries connected the fate of their people in most incredible ways across the vast expanses of Soviet Siberia. The recently published Lithuanian graphic novel “Siberian Haiku” – based on a true story – tells about human contacts between Lithuanian deportees and Japanese war prisoners.

It is therefore hardly surprising that the reestablishment of Lithuanian independence in 1990 signaled a new powerful start for the development of relations with Japan. The Japanese Embassy was opened in Vilnius in 1997. In 1999, Lithuania established its embassy in Tokyo. And in 2000, a visa free regime was introduced by the two countries, opening the way for the expansion of economic and cultural ties.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today, Lithuania and Japan are united by shared values and common approach to global issues. Both countries pursue a foreign policy built on respect for human rights and rules-based international order. We firmly believe that multilateralism, the rule of law and free trade help to create general welfare and preserve peace.

That’s why Lithuania supports Tokyo’s position that North Korea must fulfil its international commitments and refrain from actions which increase tension and pose a threat to the security of the region. It is part of our efforts aimed at nuclear security and nuclear disarmament. In this respect, Vilnius and Tokyo are close natural partners.

Both Lithuania and Japan are countries which have suffered from nuclear disasters. Lithuania still remembers – with pain in her heart – the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in 1986, while the Fukushima nuclear accident triggered by the earthquake and tsunami continues to haunt the people of Japan. It should be underlined that after 11 March 2011 many countries realized the crucial importance of nuclear safety and started to conduct stress tests on nuclear power plants. Lithuania continues its efforts to stop the construction of an unsafe nuclear power plant in Belarus, located just 40 kilometers away from our capital city Vilnius.

Partnership between Lithuania and Japan in NATO is very promising because it paves the way to an increasingly closer dialogue on security issues. We strongly believe that Japan could make a significant contribution to the development of cooperation across a wide range of fields, including cyber defense, energy and maritime safety, nuclear non-proliferation.

Despite geographical remoteness, many of the security challenges faced by Lithuania and Japan are remarkably similar and require analogous solutions. For this reason, the people of Lithuania were truly happy to welcome the Japan Maritime Training Squadron in Klaipėda in August of 2016 – a visit timed to the 25th anniversary of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

The role played by Japanese civilian experts in the Lithuanian-led provincial reconstruction team in the Ghor Province of Afghanistan between 2009 and 2013 deserves special mention. Japan provided invaluable support to Lithuania’s development cooperation projects in a country ravaged by military conflicts and international terrorism. It is an excellent example of collaborative work as we help each other to achieve common foreign and security goals.

However, the scope of our cooperation is not restricted to this area alone. The growing interest of the Lithuanian and Japanese people in each other’s countries has created a sound basis for the development of bilateral cultural and economic ties. We can delight in the successful implementation of joint projects in scientific innovation, transport, and trade as well as in educational and cultural exchange. The youth of Lithuania and Japan will surely be among those who benefit the most.

Since 2006, young people from both countries have been taking part in the Japanese government-funded International Youth Exchange Programme. Quite recently, on 1 April 2019, a working holiday scheme was introduced for young Lithuanian and Japanese adults to stay up to 12 months in each country. It will most certainly give a significant boost to better understanding and interaction between Lithuanian and Japanese cultures and lifestyles.

Among other cultural exchanges, we should also mention the annual nowJapan festival, which has been held in Vilnius for eleven years now, as well as Japanese Studies at Vilnius and Kaunas universities. Gifu University – like other Japanese higher educational establishments – has partners in Lithuania. I am very pleased to point out that the government of Gifu Prefecture is actively engaged in organizing the Lithuania NOW festival aimed at presenting the culture of Lithuania in Japan.

A big breakthrough in bilateral economic cooperation has been achieved in recent years. Through joint public-private efforts, Japan became Lithuania’s key partner in Asia in exports, incoming tourism and scientific collaboration. Following the visit of Prime Minister Shinzō Abe to Lithuania in 2018, Japanese business and financial structures increased their focus on our country.

Conditions for bilateral economic cooperation improved even further when the European Union-Japan agreement on free trade came into force this year. I am happy to point out that excellent investment opportunities are now in place for Japanese companies because of our streamlined efforts to continue moving up the ladder of international competitiveness.

We see a huge potential for the development of Lithuanian-Japanese partnership in science, technologies and innovation. Lithuanians greatly admire your country’s unique ability to combine respect for tradition with daring innovative solutions. Therefore, we want to draw on both your expertise and creative inspiration.

Lithuania has concluded cooperation agreements with Japan’s major funding agencies – which allows to launch and pursue joint research projects. Lithuanian and Japanese universities work closely together in life sciences and medicine. It is not accidentally that Professor Makoto Asashima – a Japanese developmental biologist known for his research on stem cells and regeneration – is a Foreign Member of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences. Such academic contacts contribute to the development of business ties between life sciences companies specializing in medical and pharmaceutical products.

Japan is an important market for Lithuanian-made lasers. Now that the European Union and Japan have strengthened their partnership on connectivity, new avenues will be opening for both of our countries to develop joint projects in energy security and transport infrastructure.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I began my lecture with a short historical review. I will finish it with special focus on a celebrated historical figure whose actions and contribution made it possible for me to stand before you today.

Whenever Japanese school students come to Lithuania, they most often want to visit those places where the renowned Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara – the Righteous Among the Nations, who was born in Gifu Prefecture – had lived and served.

Sugihara saved more than 6,000 lives during World War Two. His brave and selfless actions have captured global attention. There are many tokens of tribute to him in Lithuania and in Japan. During their visit to Lithuania in 2007, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko paid homage to Sugihara as they stopped by his monument in Vilnius.

Today, I had to honor to pay my respects to Chiune Sugihara at his monument in Jaocu city and to unveil a special memorial plaque. I am very pleased to tell you that a Sugihara monument will also stand in Kaunas where he helped to save human lives. But the most important news is that 2020 has been designated as the Year of Sugihara in Lithuania when we will commemorate the 80th anniversary of Visas for Life and 120 years since Sugihara’s birth.

I know that the Year of Sugihara will bring our two nations even closer together. Like no one else Sugihara represents the highest values of tolerance, humanity and justice. At the same time, he stands as a symbol of togetherness between Japan and Lithuania. Sugihara’s decision to ignore official rules and save human lives has bridged our two nations forever. As long as we, Lithuanians, remember Sugihara, we will never forget Japan.

Each spring the sakura trees blossom in Vilnius and Kaunas in symbolic tribute to Sugihara. Each spring they remind us about his courageous actions and also of Japan, Land of Sakura.

May this powerful bond encourage us to build increasingly closer ties. What has joined us together, let no one separate.

Thank you!

Gitanas Nausėda, President of the Republic of Lithuania

Last updated 2019.10.24 13:00

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