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IDJ ENGLISH International cooperation connecting people with strong ties

International cooperation connecting people with strong ties

Strengthening health and medical sector cooperation and human resource development

Interview with Shinichi Kitaoka, President of JICA
The spread of COVID-19 continues. For the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the need for health sector cooperation has been increasing around the world. On the other hand, when you look at Japanese society, JICA’s experience is more and more required in many fields including response for accepting foreign human resources. How will JICA respond to these changes? Dr. Shinichi Kitaoka, President of JICA, spoke out. (Interviewed by Mitsuya Araki, Editor-in-chief of IDJ)
Contributing to the strengthening of health and medical sector cooperation
―JICA’s operation has been exposed to headwinds due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The essential part of JICA’s operation is face-to-face communication on the ground in developing countries. The spread of COVID-19 has forced us to drastically reduce overseas travel and has largely affected our usual operation. In order to ensure safety of our personnel, JICA decided in March 2020 to repatriate all Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV) who had been dispatched abroad. From April to early May 2020, most of Japanese officials, except managerial and essential staff, of our overseas offices returned to Japan. There were difficulties such as traffic halting and border closure, but with the efforts of all the staff at home and abroad, we managed to accomplish the operation.
―On the other hand, the need for health care is increasing, especially in developing countries. What kind of cooperation will you develop in the future?
At the beginning of the spread of COVID-19, it is difficult to say that Japan was able to cooperate quickly with developing countries on measures against COVID-19. In July 2020, we launched “the JICA’s Initiative for Global Health and Medicine.” This initiative aims to establish a resilient and durable system of developing countries to respond to infectious diseases in order to protect people’s lives and health. Specifically, we will focus on strengthening the following three essential parts of health and medical sector: prevention, precaution, and treatment. Looking back, JICA has done a series of unique and outstanding activities in prevention field, such as the introduction of Maternal and Child Health Handbook and the encouragement of hand washing.
Japan has long overseas experience in improving the aspect of treatment. For example, Shinpei Goto built hospitals in Taiwan and Manchuria in the early 20th century to promote health of the local people. Building on these experiences, now JICA is promoting cooperation to build and expand hospitals that people can rely on. The goal is to develop health care systems with such hospitals at about 100 locations around the world. In addition to facilities, we are also working on human resource development and introducing remote intensive care units (ICU) using digital technology as a package. These efforts will strengthen self-sustaining response capabilities to future health crises and will contribute to the realization of “human security,” which is the most important pillars of JICA’s mission.
Providing courses to learn about Japan in developing countries
―Many foreign residents in Japan have lost their jobs due to the spread of COVID-19. JICA has begun efforts to accept foreigners, but what measures will be taken?

In November 2020, JICA established “the Japan Platform for Migrant Workers toward a Responsible and Inclusive Society (JP-MIRAI)” with the Global Alliance for Sustainable Supply Chain (ASSC). JP-MIRAI aims to facilitate communication with foreign workers residing in Japan, disseminate easy-to-understand information on portal sites specifically for them, and grasp problems they face to seek a solution. JICA serves as a joint secretariat with ASSC and is working with a number of leading Japanese companies.
JP-MIRAI was founded because foreign workers faced language and cultural difficulties in Japan. I thought that JICA is the only organization that has the capability to reach out. At the end of 2019, I told then-Chief Cabinet Secretary, the current Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, “We want to do it for our country,” and he promised to give a strong support for us. We think this is the last opportunity for Japan to become the “country of choice” for foreigners, and are working with the Immigration Services Agency of the Ministry of Justice to support foreign workers in Japan.
―What is the prospect of human resource development in developing countries?
We will continue to promote “JICA Development Studies Program (JICA-DSP),” which was launched in 2018. The purpose of this program is to provide international students who will become leaders in developing countries in the near future to learn both the experience of Japan’s modernization and post-war recovery, and its knowledge as a postwar donor country, and to make use of it for its own development. Now that we are on track, we have also started “JICA Program for Japanese Studies (JICA Chair)” in an attempt to provide opportunities for students to study about Japan at leading universities in developing countries. In this program, a hub for Japanese studies (JICA Chair) will be established, where students will be provided with courses to systematically learn the experiences and lessons learned from Japan’s modernization. Specifically, classes using DVDs of the lecture program “Seven Chapters on Japanese Modernization,” which was co-produced with the Open University of Japan, will be held, as well as on-site classes by dispatching top-notch lecturers from Japan. In chapter 1 of this program, I gave a lecture about the Meiji Revolution, which was the starting point of the Japan’s modernization. I also produced a chapter on modern Japan and the wars in order to talk about Japan’s failures without concealing them.
In Brazil, in December 2018, we signed an agreement with the Faculty of Law of the University of São Paulo, which has implemented a program titled “Fujita-Ninomiya Chair.” The late Ambassador Edmundo Susumu Fujita was the first Japanese-Brazilian diplomat; and Dr. Masato Ninomiya is a lawyer and professor at the University of São Paulo’s School of Law; both are well-known figures in Brazilian society. This chair offers courses to study about Japan, and those with excellent grades are given the opportunity to study in Japan. The number of countries adopting the JICA Chair program has been expanding, including Jordan with online courses in response to the request from His Majesty King Abdullah II.
In Rwanda, after meetings with President Paul Kagame, including one at the 7th Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD7) in 2019, a plan to hold short-term intensive lectures at the National University of Rwanda quickly progressed.
The JICA chair program started with the hope that people would get to know more about Japan. Through this program, they will be interested in Japan. I would also like to create a virtuous cycle in which students can study in Japan and continue to be interested in Japan at universities in their home countries. I would like many people, including researchers, government officials and politicians, to continue to engage with Japan through intellectual activities at the JICA chair.
Cooperation on Disaster Risk Prevention with Southeast Asian Countries
―How do you look at the Suga Administration’s “Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP)” as one of its diplomatic strategies? What kind of international cooperation can be made in the context of FOIP?
I’m in favor of promoting FOIP. However, I think that it’s wrong to perceive FOIP as the siege to China. The United States may press Southeast Asian countries to choose between “teaming up with the United States or China,” but instead of such an approach, I think Japan should proceed with the formation of a regional coalition or “Western Pacific Union,” that is, a loose solidarity with ASEAN member states, at least with major members such as Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. While the formation of a regional coalition should be discussed at the government level, JICA wants to build solid relationships as its foundation.
We may be able to cooperate in the field of disaster prevention. For example, Indonesia and the Philippines, like Japan, are at high risk of natural disasters. We will discuss with member countries how to protect their citizens from earthquakes and typhoons, and build cooperative relationships. In addition, through student exchange program and medical cooperation, I would like to strengthen ties between people and deepen the relationships.
―To summarize today’s story, I think the theme will be “Kizuna (bond)”. JICA’s initiatives are based on human-centered ideas.
Our task is to contribute to the development of developing countries. And with that, I want people in developing countries to trust Japan. The preamble of the Constitution of Japan states, “we desire to occupy an honored place in an international society,” and JICA’s efforts are consistent with this spirit.
In recent years, JICA has also played a part in implementing the Japanese government’s “Infrastructure Systems Export Strategy.” Investing in large infrastructure such as railways and ports is certainly important, but when the loan repayment periods ends, the relationship with a partner country could also end. Experiences such as “I went to Japan in the past and people there have been kind to me” will strongly remain in each person’s mind. In addition, Japanese people have the nature to recognize others as peers rather than looking down on them, and establish an equal relationship. JICA will continue to promote activities that connect people with strong ties.
―Finally, could you send a message to young people who will be responsible for international cooperation in the future?
Before becoming president of JICA, I taught at the University of Tokyo and other several universities for many years. I always told my students “Be at bat,” and I quite often asked them, touching upon some important policy issues, “how do you decide if you were a prime minister?” Their opinions were sometimes off the point, but if you don’t accumulate experience thinking for yourself, your ideas won’t come out clearly in case of need. I want you to keep asking yourself as if you were the one responsible for a matter. In addition, in November 2020 we began to re-dispatch some members of JOCV, who had returned to Japan in March 2020, starting from Vietnam. We are gradually expanding re-dispatch to other countries. Since as many as 80% of the returned JOCV hope to be re-dispatched, we will make every effort to realize it. Face-to-face cooperation is also restarting in this way. I hope you will join us without hesitation. I want you to work together with us to open up the future of developing countries and Japan.
“International Development Journal” August edition, 2021


人と人を絆でつなぐ国際協力 保健医療協力と知日派育成の強化を



新型コロナウイルスの感染拡大が続き、国際協力機構(JICA)には保健医療分野の協力ニーズが世界で高まっている。一方、国内に目を向けると外国人受け入れへの対応など、JICAの経験が必要とされる場面はこれまで以上に増えている。こうした社会情勢の変化にJICAはどう対応していくのか。北岡伸一理事長に聞いた。(聞き手:本誌主幹・荒木 光弥)
『国際開発ジャーナル』2021年4月号 掲載記事

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