Remarks by the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, the honourable Ms Sue van der Merwe at the Birthday Celebrations for his Majesty the Emperor of Japan, 30 November 2004

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am honoured to be here on this important occasion in the life of the Japanese nation.

I believe that as we gather here to wish His Majesty, the Emperor of Japan, well on the occasion of his birthday, this day takes on even more significance in the life of the Japanese nation, since it reminds us that this country has a rich and vibrant history of emperors that have ruled for over 1500 years. We recall the mythology of the Sun Goddess, the legendary prowess of the Samurai, the productivity of the people, the blossoming of language and culture and the various milestones in Japanese history - such as the radical changes brought about in what is now called the Meiji Restoration, the tragedies during the Second World War in particular and then the periods of rapid modernisation in the 20th Century.

Thus today's celebrations is also a celebration of a nation that has stood strong over many centuries, that has managed to overcome colonialism, great hardship and wars, and that through periods of remarkable restoration and reconstruction has managed to renew itself and to build one of the strongest nations in the world.

It is this extraordinary strength fortified over hundreds of years and an ability to meet the needs of modern times that makes Japan what it is today. This will to succeed is coupled with an eagerness to assist other nations to develop themselves. And even this willingness to build partnerships and to deepen international relations go back more than a thousand years as the peoples of Asia and Africa established trade relations.

President Thabo Mbeki recalled these important historical relationships when speaking at the United Nations University in Tokyo in 2001, he reminded all present that:

"For many years Japan was home to the world's oldest map of Africa. Drawn by a Chinese cartographer in 1402 to prepare the navigation to Africa by the Chinese Admiral Chang Ho, this map has been part of the collection of the Ryukoku University in Kyoto for years."

A country that preserves such a map is indeed a country that prides itself in its relations with the world. It shows a desire not only to map the past, but also to map the present and the future in finding ways in which all humanity can live together in peace and harmony.

Japan has shown its seriousness in world affairs and in helping to assist other countries to improve the lives of their people and to break away from poverty and underdevelopment. We have seen Japan as an important partner in working towards the restructuring of the United Nations Security Council and in favour of multilateralism in world affairs.

As the world's largest contributor of ODA (Official Development Assistance), Japan shows its commitment to the progress of the world's people and to people-centred sustainable development. South Africa has benefited since Japan has been a major contributor in areas such as education and health as well co-operation in culture.

Given South Africa's focus on consolidating an African agenda and working towards peace and stability in war-torn areas as well as the social and economic development of the African continent, Japan's initiative for co-operation in Africa has been welcomed. The TICAD (Tokyo International Conference on Africa's Development) that Japan has hosted since its inception in 1993 has taken us forward in the promotion of Africa's development and to strengthen the process of ownership of the development process and partnership with the international community. It is worth noting that the TICAD programme also emphasises economic growth, reduction of poverty and calls for concrete projects such as technical co-operation and economic infrastructure building.

In this way, both TICAD and NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa's Development) share synergy and occupy common ground on priority areas of human resource development, infrastructural development, agriculture and private sector development. The implementation of NEPAD depends on the commitment of partnerships and Japan's role in this regard in building Africa-Asia relations will go a long way in making this initiative successful and able to produce tangible results for Africa's people.

We look forward to the Africa-Asia Summit in next year, the 50th Anniversary of the Bandung Summit, where together we shall contribute to renewing relations and expediting trade and different forms of exchange between these two continents.

Both our countries are also committed to deepening our binational relations. This is why for us as South Africans, the Japan-South Africa Partnership Forum has been an important vehicle to cement ties and to strengthen relations. In recent years, there has been a positive growth in value-added trade and new investments - the calls that a mechanism in the form of a Joint Trade Committee (JTC) be established stems from the fact that, given the increase in trade, regular contact is needed to spearhead these developments. The Partnership Forum together with the Business Forum, the Parliamentary Friendship League and the envisaged JTC need careful and conscious nurturing for each of us to get the very best out of our relations, to share ideas and to embark upon joint projects to the benefit of both our people. South Africa also looks forward to participating in the World Exposition in Aichi next year.

As we celebrate our First Decade of Freedom in South Africa, we can safely say that this decade has seen the growth of a positive context of Japan-South Africa relations and may these relations go from strength to strength.

May we continue to map the road to the future together - for the sake of our two countries, continents and for the people of the world.

On behalf of the government and people of South Africa, we wish His Majesty a happy birthday and good health.

Let us build the relations between our two countries so that this firm friendship will continue to blossom and to bear fruit in the future.

I thank you.

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