Curiously enough, it all started with a fortuitous meeting on a flight with Dr Naoyuki Yoshino, Dean of Asian Development Bank (ADB) and a casual discussion with him on the challenges of creating infrastructure including the aspect demonstrating adequate economic justification for the huge capital outlays involved. I was very excited by Dr Yoshino’s theory of “spill-over effects” and, from his side, he seemed interested in my recount of India’s creation of one of the world’s largest mobile telecommunications infrastructure and our findings on “spill-over effects”. The net outcome of our interaction was that I was very pleasantly surprised to receive an invitation from the Government of Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) to participate in the next ASEM (Asia Europe Meeting) in Tokyo on 12 September 2018 and make a presentation there on Communications Infrastructure in India. In addition, I was also requested to join for some other meetings and field visits. I was, of course, delighted to accept the invite and eagerly looked forward to the details of the programme and itinerary.
As is quite well known, ASEM, established in 1996, is an intergovernmental process pursued to foster dialogue and cooperation between Asia and Europe. Presently, it comprises 53 partners: 30 European and 21 Asian countries, the EU and the ASEAN Secretariat. ASEM addresses political, economic, social, cultural and educational issues of common interest, on a spirit of mutual respect and equal partnership. ASEM’s focus for the Seminar on 12th Sep in Tokyo was to be on Quality Infrastructure, - the understanding of the essential elements of it, the challenges in creating it and the investments for it.

A. Preparing for the travel to Tokyo for the Seminar:

It was a unique and delightful experience from the time the invite came and I had to start preparing for the trip to Japan. I was to go as a guest of MOFA, Government of Japan. The warmth and hospitality and meticulous planning and arrangements were simply amazing. Dr K E Seetha Ram of ADB, working with Dr Yoshino, was in regular contact by email and phone to brief and assist. While on a visit for some other ADB work to Delhi, he was kind enough to spare time for meeting me and explaining about the Seminar etc. Another small but telling example of the Japanese care and meticulousness was that instead of my going to the Japanese Embassy or their agency, their First Secretary, Mr Fumitaka Fujiwara and Mr Koji ITO of their Economic Affairs Section, insisted on coming to my office and completing themselves my visa formalities and briefing me in detail about my travel and stay arrangements, the minute by minute programme for all the days, 10th to 15th Sep. They took particular care to ensure that my vegetarian diet would be available throughout. They gave me a complete docket of chronologically filed details of the itinerary, the Seminar programme and the various meetings scheduled. I was simply overwhelmed by their thoughtfulness, precise planning and heartfelt care. Getting ready to go for the ASEM Seminar was itself a remarkable experience!

B. The travel to Tokyo and arrival there:

I left for Tokyo by JAL flight JL 740, departing Delhi at 7.35 pm on Saturday, 8th Sept. The 7.5 hour flight was very comfortable and the JAL inflight service excellent. Arrived in Tokyo on Sunday, 9th Sept morning. The formalities were very smoothly handled at Narita Airport, where I was met on arrival by a person deputed by MOFA and escorted in a chauffeur-driven car to the beautiful 5star hotel, New Otani, in the centre of the city, not far from the government offices. There being no official programme for 9th, we were left to rest, relax and attend to our other work as we wished.

C. Some of the other invitee external delegates to the ASEM Seminar that I met:

  • Mr Benjamin E. Diokno, PhD, Secretary, Department of B & M, Government of Philippines,
  • Mr Suharso Monoarfa, The President Advisory Council, Republic of Indonesia,
  • Ms Hj.Nurhayati Monoarfa, Member of Parliament, Republic of Indonesia,
  • Dr Chairil Abdini, Member of Policy Research Team, PAC, Republic of Indonesia,
  • Prof Jun Hae-Won, Korea National Diplomatic Academy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
  • Mr Plamen Tonchev, Head, Asia Unit, Institute of International Economic Relations, Greece,
  • Dr Serhat Unaldi, Senior Manager-Japan, APA, Federation of German Ind., Germany,
  • Mr Ville Varjola, Adviser on Economic Affairs, APAC, European External Action Service,
  • Prof Li Feng, China Foreign Affairs University, School of International Economics, Beijing,
  • Mr Lim Chhze Cheen, Head/Director, ASEAN Connectivity Division, Jakarta, Indonesia,
  • Ms Joan M Kabigting, EA to Secretary Dept of B&M, Govt of Philippines.
    The above is by no means an exhaustive and complete list and includes only those with whom interactions were more. My apologies if I have missed any.

D. Ministerial Meetings on 10th Forenoon Session:

1. With MOFA & JICA: We were met by Mr Masato Ohtaka, Deputy Assistant Minister, Foreign Policy Bureau. Also present were Messrs Yoshie Nakatani Otsuka, Director, MOFA, Toshiya Abe, Senior Director, Operations Strategy Department, JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency).

Mr Ohtaka explained their New Foreign Policy Strategy based on the concepts of Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy, diplomacy that takes a panoramic view of the world and a proactive contribution to Peace based on the principle of international cooperation. They stated that, in Asia, Japan would further promote infrastructure development, trade and investment, and enhance business environment and human development, strengthening connectivity in the ASEAN region. The 3 Specifics of their Indo-Pac Strategy would be i) Promotion and establishment of the rule of law, freedom of navigation, free trade etc, ii) Pursuit of Economic Prosperity and iii) Commitment for Peace and Stability. Mr Abe of JICA highlighted that JICA believes in Cooperation for creating Quality Infrastructure and is the largest bilateral donor agency and involved with over 150 countries. They are of the view that Quality Growth is comprised of 3 essential elements of Inclusiveness, Sustainability and Resilient Growth. The fruits of growth need to be shared with society as a whole, leaving no one behind. Growth must also be in a sustainable manner and in harmony with the environment including addressing climate change. Last but not least, the growth must have the resilience to withstand and recover from economic crises, natural disasters and other shocks. Interesting also to note that they believe in consistent approach rather than mere strength, and like to smoothly flow or evolve from Development Policy through Master Plan to Integrated Assistance that combines assistance for “hard(physical) and soft(non-physical)” infrastructure. The various transportation projects by them in India were quoted as examples.

2. With METI (Ministry of Economy, Trade & Industry)

At METI, Mr Kohei Toyoda, Director for International Coordination, Trade Policy Bureau, and Mr Shun Hidai, Deputy Director – Trade Promotion division interacted with us. Mr Toyoda made a detailed presentation on the subject of “Initiatives for Quality of Infrastructure Development and Investment”. The highlight was the revision of the 2014 APEC Guidebook on the subject which had been based on the 3 key elements of Life cycle cost reduction, Environmental and other impacts and Safety assurance. Since then there have been new developments and initiatives like the 2016 G7 Ise-Shima Principles for Promoting Quality Infrastructure Investment, the 2016 G20 Hangzhou Declaration of Actions to Support Infrastructure Investment and the 2015 UN Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals. Hence, in the light of rapid evolution of the global economy and increased importance of infrastructure to sustain it, in 2017 in Da Nang, Viet Nam, APEC Ministers welcomed an initiative to upgrade the 2014 Guidebook.
From 3 Elements in the 2014 Guidebook, the new revised Guidebook is looking at 5 Elements: 1.Alignment with Development strategy/Openness/Transparency/Fiscal Soundness; 2. Economic and Financial soundness including cost effectiveness (including life cycle cost); 3. Local development through job creation, capacity building and transfer of technology; 4. Social and environmental responsibility; and 5. Stability/Safety, Resilience. They explained at length about the aspects of the revision work.

3. With MOF (Ministry of Finance):

At the MOF, we were looked after by Mr Munenari Nomura, Director Development and Mr Takahiro Tsuda, Director Policy Coordination. It was shown how the infrastructure gap is very large, being as high as 26 trillion dollars by 2030 for Asia as per ADB. India was highlighted as one of the countries needing significant infrastructure investment. Multi-dimensional financing channels are required to help meet the requirement. The G20 has infrastructure investment as a key agenda item and Japan has strong bilateral efforts to support infrastructure. While various organisations are doing their bit, JICA is in charge of administering all bilateral Official Development Assistance (ODA). It is the world’s largest bilateral aid agency and works in over 150 countries and regions and has about 90 overseas offices. We were apprised of the MOF’s and JIC’s initiatives and actions to support the creation of quality infrastructure, including the exercise to upgrade the Guidebook as per the 2016 Hanzhou decision.

E. Visit to Shimizu Corporation’s Institute of Technology – Afternoon of 10th Sept.:

Here we were received by Mr Masahiro Araki, General Manager and his team. Shimuzu Corporation is a venerable corporate in the creation of hi-quality construction infrastructure in Japan and tracing its origin to as far back as 1804 when Kisuke Shimizu started operations in the district of Edo. About 14.3 billion USD turnover and about 15000 employees. A great sense of craftsmanship and quality pervades the organisation. Shimuzu R&D and engineering are focussed on building robust, reliable and highly durable structures. They believe in urban development that is friendly to both people and the environment. The facilities at the Institute of Technology were very impressive. Special mention must be made of the very advanced shaking table equipment for testing durability in the face of powerful earthquakes. Very particular attention paid to the environmental preservation. e.g. in construction sites, they follow special suppressed lighting and hoods to minimize effect on environmental life like insects, animals etc.

F. Special Welcome Dinner hosted by MOFA:

In the evening of 10th we were hosted a special welcome dinner to the delegates by MOFA. On behalf of the Hon’ble Minister Horii, who had to travel to his constituency to supervise recovery from an earthquake, His Excellency Mr Jun Saito, Ambassador for ASEM and DDG, European Affairs Bureau was the host and presided over the discussions and the delightful dinner. Dr K E Seetha Ram of ADB and other officials from MOFA and JICA also joined the dinner and discussion. A lovely finish to a very useful and interesting day.

G. Visit to NEC Corporation – Forenoon of 11th Sept.:

On 11th morning, we were escorted to NEC’s “Innovation World” Showroom in Shinagawa. The visit was a fascinating and awe-inspiring journey through a world of innovation. We were made aware of several development areas in premium journey of the future like walk-through face recognition, gender and age estimation, crowd behaviour analysis etc. Biometrics such as Otoacoustic Authentication was amazing. There were many other wonderfully futuristic innovations seen relating to Public Safety, Technology Vision and Smart Nation but both inadequate space and lack of requisite technical knowledge do not permit description of those here. All in all, a wonderful glimpse of the future.

H. Visit to Komatsu IoT Centre - Afternoon of 11th Sept.:-

We were received by Mr Yoshiro Katae, Senior Executive Officer, who also gave welcome address. It was pointed out that since Japan has an ageing and declining population with reducing availability of construction workers, it has become extremely important for Komatsu to focus increasingly on IoT solutions to make construction more efficient and effective. They gave us a ‘demo’ of certain aspects of smart construction. The latter would start initial survey of jobsite by drones followed by design of Construction Plan with 3D design data leading to simulation of construction followed by construction deploying ICT equipment and lastly, efficient and effective inspection by 3D. Komatsu talked of “Landlog”, an open platform that connects land, equipment and materials to innovate construction processes by leveraging IoT.
It is interesting to note that the Government of Japan has set a target of 20% increase in productivity to offset the decline in availability of manual workers. Greater use of IoT and Smart Construction is thus a high priority for Komatsu.

I. THE ASEM SEMINAR on QUALITY INFRASTRUCTURE on 12th SEPT:

Day 3 – 12 Sept, was the all-important day of the ASEM Seminar scheduled to take place from 10am at the official conferencing facility, MITA Conference Room, Mita. There was a very useful Pre-Seminar Discussion from 9am to 10 am, moderated by Dr Naoyuki Yoshino, the Dean of ADBI.
His Excellency Mr Jun Saito started off the Seminar by warmly welcoming all delegates to the important event and first reading out the Minister who had to be away to his constituency to handle an exigency there. He brought out clearly why a common international view on Quality Infrastructure is of great importance to all nations.
Next spoke Her Excellency, Ms Patricia Flor, Ambassador-designate for the EU to Japan. She pointed out that Connectivity is not merely a technical view and stressed the need for an inclusive and open approach. She also complimented Japan, which is well known throughout the world for its high quality infrastructure. Her Excellency also pointed out that 80% of the increase in global energy demand would be in Asia and hence the high importance of Renewable Energy sources for meeting this.
Session 1 was entitled “Why Connectivity and Quality Infrastructure?” and it was moderated by Mr Masaru Honma, Director and Chief Representative of European Bank. He first dealt with What is Quality Infrastructure, then the Investment needs (India could be as high as7.4% of GDP!) and the G7 Ise-Shima Principles. An excellent introduction.
Then Dr Yoshino spoke brilliantly about the definition of quality infrastructure, about how to increase the Rate of Return from infra investment, about flow & stock budgets, about the various risks in infra investment, about direct beneficial effects as well as the important spill-over effects. He recommended that at least 20% of the spill-over gain should be returned to infrastructure investment.
Session 2 was on “Importance of Institutions and Standards for soft connectivity” moderated by Dr Ms Nobuko Kayashima, VP & Director, JICA Research Institute, and Session 3 on “Challenges in the ASEM Region”, moderated by Dr Seetha Ram. I was one of the presenters in Session 3. My co-delegates from other countries – Plamen Tonchev, Serhat Uenaldi, Ville Varjola, Benjamin Diokno, Suharso Monoarfa, Jun Hae-Won – all made excellent presentations and/or interventions relating to quality infrastructure creation and attendant challenges. The sessions were quite lively and interactive and interesting.
The Seminar concluded by about 4.00pm.

J. Visit to Ise-Shima and back - 13th & 14th Sept:

On Friday, 14th Sept, Mr Plamen Tonchev, Dr Serhat Unaldi and I were escorted for a visit to the historic town of Ise-Shima by a bullet train (Shinkansen) from Tokyo to Nagoya and from there to Ise-Shima by an Express train. We had lunch in Ise town in a quaint wonderful restaurant called Daiki that has the proud history of serving the Royalty and the Ise Shrine. The food and service/hospitality were most remarkable and it truly deserves its label of “Japan’s most famous restaurant”. We were taken then to visit the highest ranking Shinto shrine of Ise-Shima which was an experience of great serenity and peace. We also visited the magnificent venue of the great 2016 G7 Ise-Shima Summit. We even sat at the table where the G7 leaders sat and discussed! We were also escorted to see the place where the famous Mikimoto pearls are made.
We stayed the night at Shima Kanko Hotel The Classic, Shima.
This brought us to the conclusion of our visit to Ise-Shima and the next day i.e. Fri 14th, we returned via Nagoya to Tokyo back to the New Otani Hotel.
Throughout the week including for Ise-Shima, we had two wonderful guides/interpreters, - Ms Kanako Shiga and Ms Eiko Sato, who took great trouble to guide us in the commuting/trips and also explained in detail the rich history and culture of the various places visited. We are greatly indebted to them and cannot thank them and MOFA anywhere near enough for the unique and wonderful experience.

K. Departure from Japan – Sat.15th:-

I checked out of the hotel on 15th morning and was escorted to the airport by the same nice and helpful person, Ms Akiko Okuda, who received me when I arrived.
This visit to japan for the ASEM Seminar has been a matchless one, replete with rich learnings about quality infrastructure as well as the inimitable Japanese kindness, hospitality and care. A visit to cherish in my memories for a long, long time. I eagerly look forward to my next visit to this wonderful country.

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