The Japan NewsThe Andean nation of Peru boasts civilizations spanning thousands of years. It is also a Pacific country increasingly active in forging relations with Asia. Peru and Japan also share unique human ties underwritten by diaspora communities in each country — an estimated 80,000 Japanese descendants live in Peru and about 50,000 Peruvians in Japan. In an interview with The Japan News, Peruvian Ambassador to Japan Harold Forsyth discussed bilateral ties and some of the major challenges for Peru to further boost its economy and democracy.
The Japan News
Q: Peru fought hard at the FIFA World Cup in Russia, recording its first win at the tournament since 1978. Were you impressed?
Forsyth: I think not only my country but the world paid a lot of attention to our team because we had the chance to attend a World Cup after 35 years. It was an amazing opportunity, and our team was very good.
I was in Tokyo, and for the final games of the Cup, I was in Peru. I have a son who was a soccer player in the Peruvian national team. Actually, he played for Peru against Japan here [in Japan] in a friendly game [about a decade ago]. Now he’s running to be a candidate for mayor in an important district of Lima.
Q: What ties have you had with Japan in your life? What roles did the presence in Peru of Japanese descendants play in forming your image of Japan?
A: We grew up seeing them all the time and feeling that they were part of Peru, as anybody else. I myself, for instance, when I was a young student, had many friends of Nikkei origin [Japanese descent], and they are still my friends.
In those days, in different corners, in several streets in Lima, there were stores, very little stores which resembled to some extent the family stores that you have here in Tokyo. All these shops were run by Nikkei.
When I began my career, I was at the foreign ministry. I was merely 24 or 25. In those days, I had a chance to participate in different official activities by representatives from the Japanese government to Peru. That helped me to understand Japanese institutions.
I remember great prime ministers like [Yasuhiro] Nakasone and the process through which Japan became much more involved in international affairs and it achieved an economic miracle.
Japan will lead regional security
Q: Along with a diplomatic career, you have also continued journalistic activities. What aspects of Japan would you cover if you were a full-time journalist?
A: I would like to cover the security challenges that Japan is facing in relation to, for instance, the Korean Peninsula, the [free and open] Indo-Pacific strategy [that Japan and the United States advocate] and the challenges to its own safety. I think Japan will prevail and that somehow, Japan will have a very important leading role in the area and in the world.
I think Japan is acting according to what the current situation demands. It’s very easy to see that Japanese leaders have to adapt to the new challenges and to the new situations. The international order is subjected to constant change and evolution. And in the last 10 years, the changes have been amazing.
Because of those reasons, we in Peru consider there is a need to include matters like security and defense in our bilateral relations. We have had diplomatic relations with Japan for 145 years, but we never spoke about that bilaterally. Now we have started to include that in our bilateral relations.
We just appointed a navy commander as naval attache and defense attache to the Peruvian embassy [in Tokyo], because we have to see each other in that particular area. We share a common presence in the Pacific Ocean. We have a big say in that matter, being ourselves a member of the Comprehensive Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership and at the same time very much interested in the Indo-Pacific strategy.
The first step will be to get acquainted with each other, [by] for instance, [allowing] younger Peruvian students to study in the official institutions of the [Self-Defense] Forces and at the same time having Japanese students [study with counterparts in] Peru.
We need some people able to speak Japanese, and [Japan] needs some people in the [Self-Defense] Forces who are able to speak Spanish, too. And then we have to exchange views of our challenges and include these matters in the bilateral cooperation. So there’s a tremendous room for action in the future.
I’d say it’s easy to take an additional step and include new matters in the bilateral relationship. That is happening in such fields as the fight against international crime, judicial cooperation and the development of sports in Peru. The world has become very much globalized, so there are new perspectives. We want to be part of it.
Fujimori issue ‘part of the past’
Q: Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori sudden retreat to Japan in 2000 and Peru’s subsequent request to extradite him soured bilateral relations. Have the two countries overcome the uneasiness brought about by the Fujimori issue?
A: The interest of the people of Japan, in Peru, our history and culture, is much older than Fujimori. It’s not that our common history began with Fujimori.
We cannot deny that after Fujimori — with the new Peruvian authorities — for several years, the bilateral relations were subjected to a very complex situation. But after a few years, we were able to forget that past and see the future together.
Q: Did Peru try to separate the Fujimori issue from other bilateral agenda?
A: Yes, we were able to manage that. At the beginning it wasn’t very easy. It sounds easy now, but it wasn’t. It was a delicate time in our bilateral relations, but we always kept good faith in the future, and we were able to overcome the situation.
I rarely speak about that with Japanese authorities. We just consider it part of the past.
Q: What has been your main goal as ambassador to Tokyo?
A: [It has been] to promote and increase our bilateral trade. [The trade volume] is meaningful, but not very high. That worries me, especially considering that we have had for several years a free trade agreement.
At the same time, we need to increase Japanese investment in Peru. It hasn’t developed its full potential.
The legal system in Peru is extremely friendly with foreign investment, so our countries are tracking the world in that particular regard. There is an important presence of Japanese investment, but options for a big increase in that presence are still open.
Mainly, there are two big sectors in which Japan could have a very meaningful presence. The first one is the mining sector. Japan has a lot of experience in that particular area.
Another very sensible and extremely important sector is infrastructure. So discussions are under way on that particular matter. I hope we will see results in the next few weeks or months, especially for our metro system, trains and many other big infrastructure projects.
Q: How is the prospect of Peru’s ratification of the CPTPP?
A: I hope that the [CPTPP] treaty will be ratified in this legislature, which is going to last until mid-December. Hopefully, the treaty will be ratified in the next few weeks.
Q: What export products from Peru do you expect to grow in the Japanese market?
A: Nothing compares to the mining sector. There are of course nontraditional products. We’re doing well in that particular area. For instance, our vegetables and fruits arrive very safely in the Japanese market, and Japanese people love what we produce.
We have a very important process of negotiation with Japanese authorities to open the options of new agricultural products coming here, for instance, the Peruvian mandarin [orange]. It is famous all over the world, and we’re in the process of getting the final authorization for that.
Get involved in Pacific Alliance
Q: Do you expect the Pacific Alliance — an economic bloc comprising Peru, Chile, Colombia and Mexico — to play a leading role in further integrating Latin American and Asia-Pacific economies?
A: The Pacific Alliance is very popular in the world because it’s a flexible international organization. We don’t have a big bureaucracy or anything like that.
We’re trying to see things deeply, instead of thinking only in [terms of] trade and investment. The options for these four countries are very open in the world and very high, because we try to see the whole picture.
The Pacific Alliance doesn’t practice diplomacy as a traditional way to act in the international field. We try to be proactive and effective. Japan understood that. Because of that, it has a lot of interest in the Pacific Alliance.
Japan could become, if they want, an associate member of the Pacific Alliance. I hope Japan will soon take that step further.
[With the associate membership,] you will have a direct say in matters related to this institution. At the same time, there is a political dimension. Japan has a very close relation with all of the four countries. So it’s a normal step to be taken. The trend doesn’t stop. Something will have to be done in the near future.
Q: How concerned is Peru about an increasingly protectionist stance from the United States?
A: Of course we’re worried because these relations of the United States with the international system might have a negative impact on the world reality. But we don’t worry too much about that because every Latin American country is sharing more or less the same principle and the same position.
[Latin American countries] are very close to various parts of the world. For instance, Argentina is very close to Europe for historical reasons. Colombia is very close to Spain also for political reasons. We will manage every challenge that we might have to face in the future. That includes the risk of these new [protectionist] trends, which might have the potential to create a new international order. We will have to see.
Corruption as regional ‘cancer’
Q: Since the 1960s, Peru has seen dramatic political and socioeconomic transformations, including the leftist military government, democratization, terrorism and market reforms. The previous president resigned amid a corruption scandal. Is Peruvian democracy going in the right direction?
A: The country is coming to terms with the needs of the population in terms of mainly social and economic challenges. But of course there are problems. The problems relate to the weakness of our institutions — political institutions, even economic and judicial institutions.
We haven’t been very lucky in understanding that the new realities of our economy must be related to stronger political institutions for the state. That’s a problem that we share with many other Latin American countries.
But we have a democratic system. We have a free country with a free press, with every citizen able to speak their mind. That means a lot.
Stronger institutions will take time [to take root]. Of course, there is a cancer in Peru, which is called corruption. Many other Latin American countries face that, with the exception of Costa Rica and perhaps one or two more. It’s a common problem of Latin America, and we will have to face it with imagination.
International crimes, like drug trafficking, money laundering and human trafficking, are posing a tremendous menace to our countries. We’re working on that. I hope we can see some results in the near future.
This interview was conducted on July 26 by Japan News Assistant Editor Michinobu Yanagisawa.
As a career diplomat, Ambassador Harold Forsyth has been posted to a number of countries including Chile (1977-78), Bulgaria (1978-79), Canada (1987-89) and Germany (1990-92). After serving as a member of Peru’s Congress from 1995-2000, he became ambassador to Colombia, Italy, China and the United States. Forsyth presented his credentials to the Emperor in May 2017. He is married with three children.Speech