The Japan News Once the frontier of the Roman Empire, Romania has been nurtured by waves of civilizations and ethnicities and survived the complex influence of great powers. With its drastic transformation since the fall of the communist dictatorship in 1989, the country is now an energetic democracy with EU and NATO membership and is achieving high economic growth. Romanian Ambassador to Japan Tatiana Iosiper spoke in an interview Monday about the nation’s ties with Japan and its strategy amid an increasingly precarious European and global situation.
Q: How did your ties with Japan start?
Iosiper: I was first introduced to Japan by a more senior colleague of mine in the foreign ministry. I was fortunate enough to have a scholarship offered by the Japanese foreign ministry to come to Japan and study the language and culture.
That was at the beginning of my career. I was very young and studying Japanese wasn’t that difficult back then. I was in the Japan Foundation Japanese-Language Institute in Saitama Prefecture. I was there for nine months in 1993-94.
It was an extraordinary experience that sort of changed my life forever. I fell in love with Japan and its people. I was fascinated and impressed by the Japanese spirit and civilization.
It was actually my choice [to study in Japan]. The more senior colleague of mine, who had already been in the training course in Saitama, told me how beautiful it was and how fascinating studying the language was.
He showed me a huge dictionary of kanji. I was a little intimidated at the beginning, but I started to look through it and found it absolutely fascinating. I should say the study of kanji was my most favorite thing to do while I was here on the training course.
In those days, there was even a little bit of competition going on between the colleagues in the course. I wanted to come out on top, to be the best in my class.
Q: Has Japan changed since then?
A: It changed in the sense that Japan continued to develop a lot. But there are things that stayed the same: The politeness, the drive, the dedication and the work ethic.
I’m always impressed by how dedicated the Japanese people are to their work. The resilience showed by the quick recovery from natural disasters, such as the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, is an inspiration to the rest of the world.
In the same vein, I visited Kumamoto. I was equally impressed by the effort of the local authorities to rebuild after the devastation of last year’s earthquake.
I visited Kumamoto for one main reason — there was a rugby match between Romania and Japan [in June]. Romania has almost qualified for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan and we’re going to be in the same group as Japan.
In the match there was Kumamon [Kumamoto Prefecture’s official bear mascot] on the field. I think he’s one of the most beloved mascots. My daughter loves him.
Q: What recent news from Japan interested you?
A: I’m interested in the debate over the work style reform, the work-life balance and the effort to attract more women into the workforce.
Romania is also experiencing a population decline in the past decades due to low birth rates and also emigration.
Especially since we joined the EU, a lot of Romanian people seek employment in other countries in the European Union.
Women do participate in the workforce and offer qualified labor for our economy. Women work in health care and education. Even during the previous [communist] regime, women worked. We have a large number of women who work for the government. Of course, we would like to see more women in business and more women entrepreneurs.
Down the line we might encounter the same problems as Japan does with their declining population. I’m very much interested to see what kind of solutions Japan finds to this very, very challenging issue.
Q: Which facets of Japan are the people of Romania interested in?
A: There are centers in Romania where the Japanese language and culture is taught, at the University of Bucharest and also some private universities in Bucharest and universities in Cluj-Napoca, Iasi and others. In Bucharest now, we have a high school where students learn Japanese language.
The main incentive to study Japanese is the love and interest for the Japanese culture, whether the traditional aspects of it like the tea ceremony, or more modern aspects of Japan, such as manga, anime and technology. To a lesser extent, there are persons who learn Japanese for business purposes or through sports like karate and judo.
Comaneci, Hagi known in Japan
Q: Do you sometimes find the Japanese people’s interest in Romania a little outdated?
A: Yes, indeed I do. Of course, [gymnast] Nadia Comaneci and [soccer player] Gheorghe Hagi are still known in Japan. Maybe Transylvania and Dracula [are known]. But the Japanese public doesn’t know much about Romania today.
Romania has changed tremendously over the past 25 years and especially since 2007 when we joined the European Union. Romania today is a vibrant and dynamic country with a high rate of economic growth and rapid development of some high-tech sectors. We have one of the best internet connection speeds in Europe. We’re also going to host the largest laser in the world near Bucharest.
I travel a lot around the country. I’m doing my best to see as many prefectures as I can. I’ve been from Akita to Okinawa. I meet with many interlocutors and I try to make Romania more and more visible.
We usually target high school students. They’re just fantastic. They have the best questions in the world. They were very much interested in the migrant crisis [in Europe] and how the EU as a whole is dealing with that. That shows a high level of maturity of the students. I was very proud that most of the questions were asked by girls.
Q: Do you want to promote bilateral ties through Romania’s host towns for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympics?
A: We are very grateful to these municipalities like Musashino [in Tokyo] and Matsudo [in Chiba Prefecture] for their valuable support to our athletes. Musashino has a 25-year-old history of cooperation with the city of Brasov. This year [in November], on the occasion of the 70-year anniversary since Musashino became a city, the Brasov Philharmonic Orchestra will have a concert in the city. I’m going to attend it and speak.
The delegation of the Romanian Olympic Committee, which included no less than three Olympic champions, just completed a one-week visit. Musashino and Matsudo were included in the program of our delegation, and the delegation was truly impressed both by the sporting facilities the cities can provide, and the open and friendly attitude and enthusiasm of the local authorities.
Of course we expect Olympic glory for some of our athletes, which will be the best vehicle to make Romania known during the Games.
Q: Do you want to expand bilateral economic ties beyond the auto industry ?
A: The car parts industry makes up most of the Japanese industrial presence in Romania. We’re very happy with this presence. I know that the Japanese companies are happy with their business in Romania.
We hope that this presence will strengthen and be expanded, and many other companies will benefit from our competitive advantages such as skilled labor, EU membership, friendly business environment, government investment and support including grants.
We’re developing our infrastructure, and this will be a further argument for the Japanese companies to come and invest in Romania. There is an important untapped potential in many other areas, such as IT, infrastructure work, and research and development.
No to multi-speed EU
Q: EU member states have wide gaps over such crucial issues as the levels of integration and the allotment of migrants. What kind of EU should be pursued?
A: We believe that a strong and united EU is beneficial both for its members and for the international cooperation of major global players such as Japan.
We strongly support the vision presented [recently] by the president of the European Commission [in which he called for more integration]. We oppose the idea of a Europe [integrating] with different speeds [from one member state to another]. More unity is what we believe is the answer.
Q: What is Romania’s strategy for dealing with Britain’s exit from the EU?
A: We have a close partnership with the U.K., which we hope will continue even after Brexit. The status of the Romanian citizens living and working in the U.K. is one of our main priorities in the Brexit negotiations. Other priorities include safeguarding the financial provisions as well as a continuation of cooperation in defense and foreign policy areas.
Of course, in any challenges there are also opportunities. There may be companies, including Japanese companies, now in the U.K. which will consider relocating. Romania expressed an interest to host the European Medicines Agency [an EU agency], which is now based in London.
Q: Romania recently expressed its readiness to start accession talks with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Do you have any timeframe within which to achieve the goal?
A: Romania has shown both a clear political will and very concrete results as proof of our commitment to become a member of the OECD. We hope to receive an invitation to start accession talks at the earliest opportunity. We are confident that any evaluation based on merits would reach the same conclusion. We consider the OECD accession not a goal, per se, but a tool to complete the cycle of economic reforms that we embarked upon 27 years ago. It will also be symbolically the final confirmation of our return to the Western family of values after our accession to NATO and the EU.
It would be a very positive signal to the other countries in the region, too — an incentive to our partners in the western Balkans to pursue the path of economic reform.
Q: Turkey, your neighbor across the Black Sea, currently has rocky relations with European nations over such issues as democracy and sovereignty. How do you think the Turkey-EU relations should be?
A: Turkey is a close strategic partner for Romania in an increasingly complex region of the Black Sea. Romania has constantly supported Turkey’s EU aspirations. Our objective is a stable Turkey [as] a NATO member and a key EU partner.
Maintaining Turkey’s stability is very important for Romania and the region. Keeping Turkey engaged is crucial in order to address the challenges that Turkey, the EU and Romania face together.
Mission in North Korea still useful
Q: What does Romania want to do to deal with the growing threats from North Korea?
A: Romania has constantly condemned and expressed its concern of the nuclear and ballistic tests conducted by the DPRK [North Korea]. We call upon Pyongyang to fully comply with current international regulations and abstain from any action that might destabilize the security of the Korean Peninsula and the world. Romania remains firmly and fully committed to countering these threats to peace and security.
We have an embassy in Pyongyang. There are several EU members that have an embassy in Pyongyang. We believe that a presence in Pyongyang is beneficial even though [it is] very, very limited. We have reduced our political dialogue and engagement to a minimum. We still believe that a presence in Pyongyang is still useful.
Q: Given the increasingly complex relations among the United States, Europe and Russia, what kind of role does Romania want to play in the world?
A: Romania hosts a land-based Aegis Ashore missile defense system, whose primary objective is to protect Europe from ballistic missile attacks from the Middle East, and thus help deter future conflicts. The nature of the system is very defensive and does not represent a threat to anybody.
We’re also participating in peacekeeping operations throughout the world. I think Romania is one of the examples of how the people can only thrive in a democracy, in a country that observes human rights and the rule of law.
We saw Romania not progressing or evolving anymore because of the [communist] dictatorship. Since we became a democracy, we took a step forward, assumed our role on the world stage, and we have [made] the life of our citizens a fulfilling one. I think Romania is an example of how a democratic transformation can lead to prosperity and peace.
This interview was conducted by Japan News Assistant Editor Michinobu Yanagisawa.
Born in 1967, Ambassador Tatiana Iosiper entered the Romanian foreign ministry in 1992. She was posted in Washington in 1996-2000 and 2001-06, and Tel Aviv in 2007-13. Iosiper also served as spokesperson of the ministry in 2000-01. She presented her Letter of Credentials to the Emperor in November 2016. Her husband, also a career diplomat, works at the Romanian Embassy in Tokyo. They have two daughters.Speech