UPDATE: Jun 05, 2020
Latvia and Japan expand cooperation in IT and infrastructure projects
——- Would you talk briefly about the history and features of the Republic of Latvia?
Last year Latvia celebrated its 101 anniversary. Latvia has always belonged to the European mind-set and cultural area. Latvians were the last Europeans to be introduced to Christianity in the 13th century. The capital city Rīga joined the Hanseatic League and became an essential regional trading port. Japan is one of the first countries to recognize independent Latvia in 1919. Latvia was occupied by Soviet Union in 1940. Fifty dark years of occupation followed, but they did not destroy the spirit of our people, which grew into the Singing Revolution in 1989. The most notable peaceful demonstration was the Baltic Way when two million people joined their hands forming a long human chain through the Baltic countries, demanding freedom. Latvia was finally free again in 1991, and it was also well recalled in Japan. The Japanese Empress Emeritus celebrated the independence in a waka, “In the sky of autumn, birds are flying along, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, have got their independence today.” Nowadays, Latvia is a green, culturally rich, economically diverse and innovative country, and a member of the EU, NATO and OECD.
——- How do you see the recent development of Japan-Latvia relations? As Ambassador to Japan, what is your priority agenda for further strengthening the bilateral ties?
Latvia and Japan have been enjoying a strong friendship, and our relations have steadily developed. My priority is to strengthen the political dialogue as both countries have similar views on the challenges and opportunities we face. On the global stage such as the UN and OECD, we need to exchange European and Japanese expertise on AI, IoT, governance, etc. We are strengthening people to people contacts and cultural cooperation. The exchange between sister cities Kobe and Riga, Higashikawa in Hokkaido and Rūjiena is deepening. After the Great Hanshin Earthquake, we gave Kobe Zoo an elephant to raise spirits of Kobe children. The Latvian best-selling novel “Soviet Milk” was published in Japan and named as a must-read of 2019. Latvia is a singing nation. A unique Latvian Song and Dance Festival is held every five years, and ison UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list. A choir from Tokyo is a regular participant in this festival. Prime Minister Abe visited Latvia in January 2018, as the first foreign guest in Latvia’s centenary year, accompanied by a business delegation, and many areas of future business cooperation were identified – IT, transport and logistics, forestry, food processing, pharmaceuticals. And we can already see concrete results. After the entry into force of the EU-Japan EPA, our bilateral trade has increased by 12%.
——- How is Latvia developing advanced fields such as green energy and digital economy?
Latvia is expanding its biomass, hydropower, solar and wind energy production under the National Energy Climate Plan (NECP), which aims to reach “climate neutrality” by 2050. Already now Latvia has the third highest share of renewable energy in the EU amounting to 40%. There are plans to develop common offshore wind projects in the Baltic States, and Latvia is looking forward to collaborating with the Japanese businesses.Latvia has one of the fastest internet connections in the world, and in 2019 we launched the 5G network. Every year Riga hosts one of the biggest regional 5G fora – “5G Techritory”. Latvia is also one of the leading countries in digital governance.Latvia is a regional leader in drone manufacturing, 3D printing technologies, Fintech and AI machine translating technologies.Latvia is the biggest IT exporter among the Baltic states. Many Latvian IT companies have established a successful collaboration with the Japanese partners. Latvia has also a diverse and developing start-up scene. We have introduced startup visas for foreign founders, as well as a favorable tax regime. Every year, we organize one of the leading startup conferences in the Baltic-Nordic region called “TechChill”, where also Japanese experts and companies participate.
——- What are Latvia’s priorities for the European Union agenda?
Building a climate-neutral, digital and fair Europe is our priority. Latvia supports further advancement of the EU Single market, especially in service sector. Latvia, Estonia and Finland have already established a unified regional gas market. Latvia is actively implementing the large-scale regional project Rail Baltica, connecting Baltic States with Poland and Germany. Latvia supports further strengthening of EU’s common security and defence policy, that includes enhancing military mobility in the EU, as well as fighting against hybrid threats and cyber attacks. In addition, it is important to promote close relations with the EU neighborhood countries and leave the doors open for a feasible EU enlargement.
——- Latvia has the largest Russian-speaking population in the EU. Are they well integrated in the communities? How is the relationship between Latvia and Russia?
Latvia is a home to people of many nationalities. They are well integrated, respected and cherished in Latvian society where religious, linguistic and ethnic diversity is an integral part of our life.Since 1991, integration policy has been one of the top priorities in our domestic affairs. State supports the cultural identity of national minorities, providing education in 7 minority languages, and supports Latvian language training programs. All these policies have brought results.In relations with Russia, Latvia pursues a two-track policy – dialogue and deterrence.We cannot ignore Russia’s violation of international norms, attempts to rewrite the history and the military buildup at our borders. However, there can be areas where we can have a pragmatic cooperation on cultural projects and a good collaboration between customs officials and border guards. And Russian tourists enjoy visiting Latvia.
——- How is Latvia dealing with COVID-19 ?
Latvian government acted quickly and decisively, adopting support measures to businesses, fully implementing remote learning, holding Government’s e-meetings, and companies’teleworking at home. Hackathon events have produced concrete results, such as producing a PPE equipment for hospitals. Testing is easy accessible. Almost 40,000 people have been tested out of 1.9 million people (as of April 21, we have 748 cases and 9 deaths). Latvia’s policies as quick, proportionate and effective have been praised by international experts.
(Interview by Shu Tamaru, FEC Counsellor)