SATOSHI SUZUKI, 61, has been Ambassador of Japan to India since October 2019. A post-graduate from the School of Advanced International Studies at the Johns Hopkins University, he joined Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1984. Since then, Suzuki has served his country in various capacities both in Japan and abroad.

He was also the Deputy Minister for Foreign Policy in 2017. Since the outbreak of the second wave of Covid19 in India, Suzuki has been in constant touch with senior Indian officials on how Japanese medical aid could reach different parts of India, including the North-East, to help Indian authorities fight the deadly virus.

In an interview with ASHOK TUTEJA, the Japanese envoy speaks extensively on the emergency supplies sent by Japan, Quad’s proposal to ramp up the manufacture of Covid vaccines and the possibility of the India-Japan annual summit taking place this year, among other issues.

Excerpts:

Q. India is in the midst of the second wave of coronavirus. Japan is at the forefront of assisting India with emergency medical supplies to deal with the crisis. Could you please give details of the aid sent by Japan to India for fighting the pandemic? Is India going to receive more medical supplies and grantin-aid from Japan to tackle the deadly virus?

A. Japan stands with India, our close friend and important partner, in its efforts to fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. Soon after the second wave, Japan immediately started emergency assistance to India. With the latest decision made on 28 May, Japan has announced in total the provision of 1,800 ventilators and 2,800 oxygen concentrators to the people of India.

These life-saving items are already beginning to serve patients in hospitals across this country. Apart from these efforts, Japan has been assisting India’s policies to tackle Covid-19 since last year. We have provided 50 billion Yen (approximately Rs 33 billion) budget support for this purpose as well as 30 billion Yen (approximately Rs 20 billion) assistance to strengthen social protection.

Japan is also working with various international organisations to make effective interventions. A good example is our collaboration with UNDP to set up eight oxygen generation plants in India’s North-East. I hope Japan’s assistance will contribute to alleviating and containing the Covid19 situation in India.

Q. How can India and Japan collaborate to meet the challenge posed by Covid-19?

A. In addition to the emergency assistance I have just mentioned, there are a number of ways Japan and India can collaborate to meet the challenge posed by Covid-19. Prime Minister Suga and Prime Minister Modi confirmed that they would work in closer cooperation towards containing the pandemic, when they spoke at the end of April. One of the significant challenges posed by Covid-19 is economic recovery.

I touched upon the assistance we have provided for social protection. It is indeed important for us to work together to protect the most vulnerable. Japan and India are also working to strengthen the industrial competitiveness of India, which can contribute to the visions of ‘Make in India’ and ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’. We are constantly discussing how to secure resilient and reliable supply chains, against the backdrop of vulnerabilities that surfaced as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a broader perspective, Japan and India should continue to uphold our shared vision for a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific. While the pandemic is posing a challenge to actual movements of people and goods, I cannot over-emphasise the value of keeping this region free and open, upheld by rules and norms, in order to maintain our safety and prosperity.

Japan and India are also the partners in the Quad. In the first-ever Quad summit meeting in March, the four leaders of Australia, India, Japan and the United States confirmed that they are working collaboratively to achieve expanded manufacturing of Covid-19 vaccines. We are looking forward to exploring how Japan and India can work together along this line, as well.

Q. Do you see the possibility of India and Japan exchanging medical professionals in the coming years to learn from each other’s experience in dealing with pandemics like Covid-19?

A. Exchanging our experiences and expertise would be fruitful for both countries. Japan and India launched the Healthcare Joint Committee in 2018, and we have been already promoting exchange of medical doctors and professionals. Of course, under the current situation, we need to focus first on containment of the pandemic, but I believe the suggestion is worth exploring.

Q. India-Japan annual summit has already been postponed twice for different reasons in the last two years.Do you see the possibility of the two countries holding their annual summit this year?

A. On 26 April, the two Prime Ministers had a telephone talk where they shared the view to realise Prime Minister Suga’s visit to India at a mutually convenient time, taking into account the Covid-19 situation in India. I hope the situation will improve so that we could hold the next bilateral summit soon.

Q. During their virtual summit in March,the four Quad leaders (Prime Minister Narendra Modi,US President Joe Biden,Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison) had decided to ramp up the manufacturing and distribution of Covid vaccines in the Indo-Pacific region. What is the progress in this direction?

A. Based on the Quad leaders’ Joint Statement and the Summit Factsheet, the four countries are currently discussing how to collaborate in expanding the manufacture of a safe, affordable and effective vaccine. To that end, further discussions will be made in the seniorlevel Quad Vaccine Experts Group.

Q. Are India and Japan also exploring the possibility of jointly manufacturing vaccines to deal with Covid-19?

A. As far as I know, there are no such plans. India is “the pharmacy of the world” and a leader in vaccine production. Therefore, there can be many ways to work together for promoting vaccination. For example, we can collaborate by combining the assistance for lastone-mile solutions both in India and in other countries.