Toespraak: The 150th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between Belgium and Japan

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am honored to be here today at the Egmont Palace to address you on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Belgium and Japan.

It was indeed in 1866 that our country signed a friendship, trade and navigation treaty with Japan, which marked the beginning of formal diplomatic relations between our two countries. Our economic ties quickly became closer, and at the turn of the century, Belgium was Japan’s third trade partner. Local cultural ties between Belgium and Japan flourished, especially as of the second half of the 20th century. Today, for instance, there are six active twinning agreements between Japanese and Belgian cities.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Japan is the second largest non-European source of direct foreign investment in Belgium. In our country there are about 300 branches of Japanese companies, which directly employ nearly 30,000 people. About 20 percent of Japanese companies in Belgium are active in the automotive industry, with Toyota as the largest employer. However, Japan is also investing in sectors like chemistry, pharmaceuticals and electrical engineering.

Belgian industry is also well represented in Japan, with nearly 80 branches, mainly in the chemical and pharmaceutical sector (particularly Umicore).

Apart from formal relations, there are also many informal Belgian-Japanese networks, such as the Belgium-Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce, the Brussels-based Belgium-Japan Association and Chamber of Commerce, which groups the majority of Japanese investors in Belgium and Belgian companies active in Japan, or the Tokyo-based Japan-Belgium Society, which was founded back at the beginning of last century and which has over 400 members today.

The very close ties between the Japanese imperial family and the Belgian royal family also add a special dimension to the relations between the two countries. The diplomatic bilateral relations and important economic ties between Belgium and Japan are further characterized by frequent and regular official visits.

In the context of the 150th anniversary of our diplomatic relations, I would therefore like to intensify the contacts between the Japanese Parliament and the Belgian Chamber over the coming months. Incidentally, this will now be even easier, since there are again direct flights between Brussels and Tokyo.

Ladies and gentlemen,

To celebrate these 150 years of diplomatic relations between Belgium and Japan, a number of events will also be organized. This year for instance, Japan will be guest of honor at the “Floraliën”, the flower show, which is organized every five years in the center of Ghent, the Flemish town that since 1971 has been twinned with the Japanese city of Kanazawa. Please forgive me if I put the spotlight for a moment on my native city of Ghent on, because there are so many other special events on the program outside the flower show.  

Ladies and gentlemen,

Every day, Belgians are surrounded by the beauty and ingenuity of Japanese culture. Just think of Japanese electronics and Japanese cars, but also to the rising popularity of Japanese cuisine - one can not imagine doing without the sushi restaurants in our cities and beyond - and the prominence of Japanese literature in this country - books by Haruki Murakami are devoured in this country - but also Japanese films, Japanese manga, ... are more popular than ever.

It's clear that the relations and ties between Belgium and Japan are not only friendly and diverse; they are also based on shared values and interests.

Therefore, as President of the Belgian Chamber of Representatives, I can only wish that the close and cordial relations between our two countries will remain equally strong in the future.


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