Sat, 27 Aug 1994

Shifting bilateral relations into global partnership

By Seiichi Okawa

Ambassador designate, Taizo Watanabe, who arrived in Indonesia this week said in an interview with The Jakarta Post that he was delighted to head the Japanese mission in Jakarta as the climate and the atmosphere in Southeast Asia suits him well. The interview was held in Tokyo last week.

TOKYO (JP): "Business and economics", that is probably the most often used description of Japan-Indonesia relations in the past.

Japan's new ambassador designate to Jakarta, Taizo Watanabe promises to expand upon this important focus to include other areas as well.

The 60-year old Watanabe, one of Japan's most able diplomats, was chosen by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama to succeed recently departed Ambassador Kimio Fujita who is now president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

"The economic-business aspects are of course important, but just as important are cultural exchanges between the two countries," Watanabe said, revealing his approach to bilateral ties.

Married with four children, Watanabe arrived with his wife, Haruko, in Jakarta on Thursday to begin what is anticipated to be a fruitful tenure as ambassador.

"I have finished reading some 20 books on Indonesia and found that this country boasts a variety of exceptional art," he said.

Watanabe vowed to savor and learn to appreciate the various cultures here.

Born in Tokyo, Watanabe is a graduate of Law from the University of Tokyo. He entered the Gaimusho, the Japanese ministry of foreign affairs, in 1956.

He began his diplomatic career with brief postings in the United States and Kenya before being assigned as First Secretary at the Japanese embassy in London.

Upon his return to Japan in 1972, Watanabe was given the honor of serving as private secretary to the Chief Cabinet Secretary after which other senior positions in the Gaimusho were soon to follow.

In 1983 Watanabe was posted to Thailand where he was deputy chief of the embassy in Bangkok. However this assignment lasted only a year because he was transferred to Los Angeles as Consulate-General.

Following his stint on the west coast of America, Watanabe moved to the east coast as deputy to the ambassador in Washington.

In 1989, Watanabe returned to Tokyo to serve as Gaimusho's spokesperson until 1992 after which he was selected as Ambassador to Egypt.

Coming on the heels of his tenure in Cairo, Watanabe admits he is genuinely looking forward to coming to Jakarta.

"I'm very happy to be able to serve in Jakarta...especially since my wife and I love tropical fruits such as durian and mangoes."

When asked why he had moved to Jakarta earlier, Watanabe said that he had numerous family affairs to attend to in Tokyo.

"I was thinking of attending the Aug. 17 celebrations, but I felt it was better to conclude my personal affairs first so that when I arrived in Jakarta I could fully concentrate on my work," he said.

Watanabe's four grown children are all pursuing careers of their own in Japan. The youngest one recently acquired a job at the Yomiuri daily newspaper and will start working as a journalist next April.

Though none of the Watanabes' children will escort them to Jakarta, it certainly doesn't mean the ambassador won't have anything to occupy his free time.

Watanabe and his wife have adopted four other "children", their cats Pyonko, Antenna, Salt and Pepper.

"My wife loves cats, so I have to come to like them too," he explained.

Watanabe said that three of his feline friends "served" with him in Cairo and they will again accompany the ambassador and his wife to Jakarta.

The latter, Pepper, won't be coming because the nine year old cat has a very "independent attitude."

If he can break free from his daily chores of nursing the cats, Watanabe can probably be found spending his free time trying to improve on his 18 handicap.

He admits to being an ardent golfer and swimmer and also lists traveling as a major hobby.

During his stay in Cairo, Watanabe was impressed by the sounds of people reciting the Koran rekindling his interest in music and the arts.

"Though I'm not good at singing karaoke, I do like to get together for a sing-a-long," he said.

When confronted for his views on the many contentious issues prevailing in Indonesian politics, Watanabe diplomatically said that he would first like to learn more about the situation and obtain information in Jakarta before commenting on them.

"I'm not a diplomat who easily remarks on something without first confirming its validity," he answered.

However Watanabe was secure in noting the positive developments of President Soeharto's leadership over the past 25 years.

Speaking about bilateral relations with Indonesia, Watanabe strongly believes that ties should shift from merely a bilateral sphere to a global perspective.

He points to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting due to be held in Jakarta and Indonesia's leadership of the Non- aligned Movement as prime examples.

Watanabe also sees a strong need to start up an easy and open line of communication between the countries to create a better mutual understanding of the peoples.

"I'm confident that I can be a catalyst in furthering dialog between Japan and this important country," he said.