Keynote Address by Ambassador Motohide Yoshikawa
Permanent Representative of Japan to the United Nations
At the Opening Ceremony of National Model United Nations
New York City,
Sunday, 27 March 2016


Amb. Yoshikawa



Ms. Beatrice Soler, Secretary-General,  

Ms. Cara Wagner, Deputy Secretary-General,

Ms. Sachiho Tani, Secretary-General, National Model UN-Japan,

Thank you for the introduction.


It is my pleasure and great honor to be invited to speak in front of 2000 students coming from 93 countries! Before coming here, I checked how many of your countries I have visited. It was 48 out of 93 countries, 51%. I still have a lot of trips to make.


I have lived, until now, in seven countries. They are Argentina, France, Spain, Thailand, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and Japan.


Today, in the coming 20 minutes, I wish to speak on three topics:


          1. How I became a diplomat.

          2. What has been my aim in foreign service, and finally

          3. My messages to you.


First: how I became a diplomat.


I have been influenced by many people and I am still influenced by the people I meet every day, like you! I feel lucky to have good teachers, bosses and friends. But in deciding my future career, there are two persons who influenced me the most.


The first person is my late father. He was born in 1921 in rural Japan, near Nara. He lost his father when he was seven years old. My father started to work at the age of fifteen. He went to war at the age of 20, like all the Japanese males of his generation. He spent four years as a soldier until Japan lost the war in 1945. But, his war did not end in 1945, because he was detained by the Soviet Union and spent four years in a camp in Siberia. When he finally returned to his home he was already 28 years old—having spent the best eight years of his life in war.


What my father told us, three brothers, was to get an education. He wanted to study more, but the family could not afford to send him to higher education. I learned from him that I was very fortunate to be able to study. I also learned from my father how lucky we are that we live in a time of peace!


I said two persons most influenced my life. The second is not a single person; it is my experience as a high school student in the USA. In 1968, I came to the United States by a scholarship called American Field Service, AFS, to study one year at a high school.  Mr. Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, who will speak to you at the closing ceremony, also studied in the USA by AFS.  I went to a small town called LeRoy in the state of Illinois. I studied my senior year and graduated from LeRoy High School, it was the most memorable one year in my life, thanks to my very generous host family and the kind people of the town of LeRoy. This one year probably determined my future course of life.


Since I was the only foreign student and the only Japanese in town, I became well-known very quickly. I made many public speeches including on TV and newspaper interviews. A very typical question people asked me was, “What do you want to do in the future?” Frankly speaking, I had no idea! After being asked several times, I started to answer: “I want to be a diplomat or a journalist.” People nodded at my answer, saying “Sure! You can make it!” To tell you the truth, I had never met neither a diplomat nor a journalist in my life!

When I returned to Japan after one year in Illinois, I was determined to one day become a diplomat or a journalist! I can tell you this with my own experience; “Convince yourself what you want to do.” Your determination will open the door for you. That is what happened to me.


Second: my life as a diplomat.


Let me now move to the second part of my talk; my life as a diplomat. After the university studies in Tokyo, I entered the Foreign Service, full of hope and determination to do something meaningful for the country. Somewhere in the back of my mind, there was also a strong wish that I may be able to contribute to building peace.


My first assignment was Spain. I was given an opportunity to learn the Spanish language for two years and it was my own choice. This turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. I could master the Spanish language and, 30 years later, I could serve as the Japanese Ambassador in Spain. Spanish has been a very useful language in many parts of the world, especially in the United Nations.


But more importantly, in Spain I met a French girl with whom I married 37 years ago. She came to listen to me today. Living in a still traditional Japanese society of the early 1980s was not easy for her, but she adapted to Japan very well and she speaks Japanese. I am very grateful to her. Our story of marriage between different cultures may be interesting to you, but let me move to the main topic of foreign policy.


Among the foreign policy aims, I was always interested in peace-making and the United Nations. My university dissertation was on UN Peacekeeping Operations. There is no mention of PKO in the UN Charter. Is it an authentic activity of the UN? What is the legal basis of the PKO? These were the main themes of my dissertation. It was 1974 and the interests on UN PKO’s were still limited, particularly in Japan. And in the early 1990s, I became the Director of UN Political Affairs of the Foreign Ministry responsible for sending Japan’s first peace-keepers to Cambodia.  What a coincidence!


At the Foreign Ministry, I wanted to do something related to peace-making and peace-building. The opportunity came when I was given a work related to development assistance to poor countries in the world, particularly in Asia and Africa. My interest was how to use Japan’s development assistance to consolidate a fragile peace in post-conflict situations.


Japan was the world’s largest provider of the Official Development Assistance (ODA) in the 1990s and 2000s. The second was the USA.


Take Cambodia as an example. I know that Cambodian students participate in Model UN this year. Cambodia experienced one of the bloodiest civil wars in Asia which lasted for 20 years. In 1991, the civil war was ended by the Peace Agreement signed in Paris. The following year in 1992, Japan hosted an International Conference on Reconstruction of Cambodia. We also sent our first peace-keepers to Cambodia in the same year.


The idea of a reconstruction conference is to give the people who have suffered so much by the war concrete hope for the future. It is aimed to give so-called “peace dividends” to the people who have decided to give up weapons and build peace.


For Japan, who had promised, after the Second World War, never to engage in a war, humanitarian and development assistance was what we wanted to provide to the world.


To mobilize the international community to provide assistance, an international conference is a very effective way to do so. Organizing a reconstruction conference for countries that have just come out of civil wars has become one of Japan’s important diplomatic initiatives. I was fortunate to play a leading role in some of the major conferences that Japan hosted. One was on Afghanistan in 2002, and the other was on Sri Lanka in 2003. I also organized an international conference on reconstruction of Pakistan in 2009.


Let me speak on Afghanistan, since I served as Japan’s first Special Representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Afghanistan occupies an important place in Central Asia. Because of its strategically crucial location, both the British Empire and the Russian Empire tried to occupy Afghanistan in the 19th Century. The people of Afghanistan continued to suffer in the 20th Century as well. You remember the invasion by the Soviet Union and subsequent civil war. “9/11” happened when Al-Qaeda, led by Osama Bin Laden, was in Afghanistan. The Afghan War of 2001 ended when the coalition forces led by the US expelled Al-Qaeda and the Taliban forces from Afghanistan.


The Bonn Agreement was signed in November 2001. This agreement set out the political road map to establish democratic government in Afghanistan. As soon as the Bonn Agreement was signed, Japan started to prepare for an international conference on the Reconstruction of Afghanistan. In December, the Director- General of the Middle East and Africa from the Japanese Foreign Ministry came to New York and Washington, D.C. The Conference was going to be co-hosted by Japan and the UN.


I was the Ambassador in charge of political affairs at our Mission to the UN and accompanied the Director-General for his meetings. We met UN Envoy Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi, a famous trouble-shooter for the UN and former Foreign Minister of Algeria. He very much welcomed the Japanese initiative. So did Washington.


The Japanese government asked Mrs. Sadako Ogata, who had retired from her successful ten years as UN High Commissioner for Refugees, to chair the Tokyo Conference. Mrs. Ogata was my University professor, another coincidence. I accompanied her on her visit to Afghanistan and neighboring Iran and Pakistan in cold January of 2002. We were preparing for the conference to be held two weeks later in Tokyo.  Incidentally, Mrs. Ogata, as a professor, led the first Japanese delegation to the Model UN in the 1980s.


The purpose of the Tokyo Conference was to give international support to a newly established interim government of Afghanistan so that the new government can give hope to the Afghan people and start tackling difficult tasks such as reintegrating former civil war fighters into society, forming an army and a police force, and fighting against narcotics and corruption. At the Tokyo Conference, which was held in January 2002, we were able to obtain the pledge of $4.5 billion to support Afghanistan. The Tokyo Conference created tremendous optimism among the Afghan people.


It has been more than 14 years since the conference was held. During these years, I have visited Kabul several times and I have to confess that the difficulties and challenges in the politics and economy of Afghanistan still continue. Now, being a member of the Security Council, I have been calling for a greater attention to be paid on the situation of Afghanistan by the Security Council. We should call for stronger reform efforts to the Afghan Government, but at the same time, we, as the international community, should continue our assistance to suffering Afghans.


I still remember a conversation I had with a former Mujahedeen fighter (a soldier who fought a war against the Soviet Union and subsequent civil war) in 2002. Japan was organizing a programme to reintegrate former soldiers into society by providing vocational training. This former Mujahedeen fighter was taking a course on car repair in Kabul. He said he was fighting all his adult life carrying a Kalashnikov and now he wanted to find a work without a rifle. He looked very old but I found out he was ten years younger than me. I felt very assured that what we were doing was in the right direction.


I believe that the people, both men and women, in post-conflict countries have to become economically and financially independent, and for that purpose, people have to receive education and be empowered.  Whether it is in Afghanistan or in Palestine, it is not possible to build a viable economy without empowering men and women of the society. As Africans often say, you should not give a poor man a fish; you should teach him how to fish.


I have spoken long enough to convey to you the importance of empowering each individual in order to build durable peace.


Third: my messages to you.


Now I come to my third and final part of my talk, which are my messages to you.


First, you yourself should decide what you want to do in your life. Listen to your parents, teachers and friends. But the final decision is yours. Once you decide, convince yourself that you can do it. The path will open for you.


Second, whatever you do as your profession, you should work hard.  But, keep your personal interests of what you want to do.  Never lose curiosity to do something new, meet new people, or go to new places.


Finally, to be a diplomat is a great way to spend your life. You can become a diplomat of your country or you can work at the UN and become a diplomat of the world.  You can work for peace and security, development and human rights.  And you get paid!


Among the former participants of the Model UN from Japan, I personally know several diplomats as well as several senior officials at the UN Secretariat.  I look forward to meeting some of you in the UN in the future.


Good luck to all of you!





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