Mr Cox, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very pleased to express my heartfelt welcome to all of you at this opening reception in the United Kingdom for the 2005 EU-Japan Year of People-to-People Exchanges. Instead of spelling out my own thoughts, let me convey to you a message from Foreign Minister Machimura to mark this very special year in Japan-EU relations.
"The year 2005 is the ��ϦU-Japan Year of People-to-People Exchanges'. As we approach the middle of the ��ϥecade of EU-Japan Cooperation' which started in 2001, it is very significant and appropriate that this year has been designated the ��ϦU-Japan Year of People-to-People Exchanges', in the hope that Japan-EU relations will be further strengthened in the 21st century. We are to see a variety of events both in Japan and the EU in the framework of the Year.
Japan and Europe have a long history of exchanges. We are familiar with each other's culture in everyday life such as music, the arts, literature, films, food, fashion, manga and animation. There are 242 sister-city links between Japan and the EU. In 2002, about 840,000 people of European nationalities visited Japan, while about 4,690,000 Japanese people visited Europe. Bilateral investment, as well as bilateral trade, has increased in recent years. In fact, the EU has now invested more in Japan than the US, and Japan has become the second largest investor in the EU after the US. The increase in bilateral investment deserves to be welcomed because it not only promotes economic activities but also leads to further exchanges between people.
In the course of the �ߡ�005 EU-Japan Year of People-to-People Exchanges', many events will be held in a variety of areas such as politics, the economy, society, culture, science and technology, and sports, with the aim of further promoting people-to-people exchanges and deepening mutual understanding.
I would like to encourage all of you to actively participate in events during the exchange year organised both in Japan and the EU Member States. I hope these events will provide us with opportunities to initiate new exchanges. I also hope that the 580 million people in Japan and the EU will strengthen their ties by exchanging information and establishing networks of cooperation."
Now let me add a few footnotes to Foreign Minister Machimura's message. In particular, I would like to express my appreciation to all those whose contribution has made this event possible.
First, may I thank the Nihon Buyo team for demonstrating their exquisite art on the occasion of today's launch ceremony. I am sure you will be impressed by the grace and beauty of the performance you are about to enjoy. These qualities, and the warm glow that they inspire in all of us, are good omens for the future of Japan-UK and Japan-EU relations.
I am also grateful to the members of the Steering Committee for the Year of People-to-People Exchanges in the UK. Formed last July and working under severe financial constraints, the 15-member Committee soon found that its biggest challenge was to convince potential organisers of the viability of the Exchange Year. However, it has done a marvellous job. So far 72 official events are registered in the UK, of which 54 have been initiated at the grass-roots level.
In fact, we have with us today more than 20 organisers of grass-roots events. My appreciation goes out to them. With the government playing a negligible role in this arena, it is these dedicated individuals and groups that promote grass-roots exchanges which impact on people's daily lives.
We also have a number of journalists here this evening. I feel this is quite auspicious, as the degree of press coverage and the nature of the reporting are important factors in determining how high a profile this Exchange Year will enjoy.
In conclusion, I thank all of you again for your respective roles in Japan-UK and Japan-EU exchanges. Your infectious enthusiasm fills me with great optimism for the success of this venture.
With this, on behalf of Japan I hereby declare that the 2005 EU-Japan Year of People-to-People Exchanges is now officially under way.
Thank you very much.