“The knowledge and technology we’ve developed … could help Japan”

Everything in good shape

Ambassador-designate of the Kingdom of Denmark to Japan Peter Taksøe-Jensen

 


November 2019 The Interview / Text by Andrew Howitt / Photo by Benjamin Parks


During his nearly four decades in the Danish foreign service, Ambassador-designate of the Kingdom of Denmark to Japan Peter Taksøe-Jensen has had numerous roles, including helping to negotiate the first treaty on conventional arms in Europe and developing NATO policy. With a background in law, he has worked in the ministry’s Department of Legal Services (1999–2008) and as an assistant secretary general for legal affairs at the United Nations (2008–2010). Before taking up his post in Japan in September, Taksøe-Jensen served as ambassador to the US (2010–2015) and to India, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Nepal (2015–2019).

Could you tell me about your time as ambassador to India?

We had a challenging bilateral relationship with India at the time. In 1995, a Danish national decided it was a good idea to drop some arms in West Bengal for a terrorist group there, and the Indian government, of course, wanted to prosecute him for this. They tried to extradite him from Denmark but, because of the risk of infringement of his human rights, this was blocked by the Danish high court. So, in 2011, the Indian government shut down all formal bilateral relations with Denmark.

My predecessor had a hard time because there were no meetings. I moved there from Washington in 2015, and my main task was to get relations back on track. Time helps a lot in things like this, but we also needed to use some diplomacy. Luckily, in December of 2018, our two foreign ministers met and restarted the Joint Commission, the formal framework for government-to-government collaboration. In January of this year, we had a meeting in India between our two prime ministers, and they decided to take our relationship to the next level and establish a strategic partnership.

India will most likely be the second-largest economy in the world by 2050, it will have the largest population, and it will play a bigger role in global affairs in the future. India is going to be a nation you want to build even closer relations with, and that is what we’re doing. So, I left India with a feeling of mission accomplished.

What are your goals for the embassy?

In 2014, the then-prime minister of Denmark, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, and Japan’s Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe signed a strategic partnership agreement between our two countries, but that has not really been as big of a driver as it could be in our bilateral relations. I’m looking at how we can use this framework to have more activities in the bilateral relationship and to identify areas where we want to intensify contacts between ministers.

It would also be good to look at new areas that are not covered today by the agreement. We have other solutions to many things that could help Japanese society.

What are a couple examples?

The energy sector is an area where I think we could increase collaboration with Japan. The Danish government has the ambition of becoming a fossil fuel-free society by 2050, meaning the transport sector has to be transformed. But this journey started back in 1974 when the first oil crisis hit. At the time, Denmark was 98% dependent on foreign energy and, because of how the crisis disrupted our economy, we decided that this was not a very good idea. So, we’ve worked to become 98% independent of foreign energy. The knowledge and technology we’ve developed on this journey could help Japan, which is currently 94% dependent on foreign oil and gas.

Digitalisation is another area. We brag that we are the most digitalised society in the world. Almost all interactions between citizens, the public sector and the state are done online. When I have to file my taxes, I do it by pressing a button on my phone. My mother does the same, and she’s 83 — 98% of the population is able to do this. A lot of knowledge and technology were developed to reach that situation in Denmark. Here, you can go into a shop and still see a sign saying “Cash only”.

 

 

Could you tell me about your meeting with former foreign minister, Taro Kono, in September?

Denmark has a very close friendship with Minister Kono, who is the chairman of the Japan–Denmark Parliamentary Friendship League. I met him before the cabinet reshuffle, in his capacity as foreign minister. It was a very positive meeting where he and I concluded that everything is in good shape — except that we need to continue working to get a free trade agreement between the Faroe Islands and Japan. It’s something that he has been promoting, and that we think is a very good idea, but we have run into some challenges.

The Faroe Islands and Greenland are part of the Danish realm, but not members of the European Union and, therefore, not covered by the EU–Japan Economic Partnership Agreement [EPA]. While an agreement wouldn’t be so significant from the perspective of Japan’s economy, it would have a huge impact on the society of the Faroe Islands, which has a population of 49,290 people. They export a lot of fish.

What is Denmark planning for the Olympics and Paralympics next year?

We plan to win a lot of gold medals. We also plan to use the Olympic and Paralympic Games as an opportunity to strengthen our relationship with Japan. We’ll have a Danish pavilion in Hibiya Park, and the idea behind it is really innovative. The heading for this is sustainability. It will be made out of reusable plastic; sails from competition sailboats will be used for the roof. The plastic will be put together to make chairs, and the whole pavilion will be made from 5,000 chairs. Then it can be disassembled, and everything can be reused.

We’ll also have the Danish training ship, Danmark, coming, which will dock in Tokyo Harbour. It will be a platform for Danish businesses to attract some attention.

The good thing about the Danish pavilion is that it lets us present a narrative about who we are and what we can do together. And the ship points to the fact that we’re both maritime nations. We can use these symbols to build even more on our bilateral relationship and promote the fact that Denmark and Japan are close and have a lot in common. 

“[We] plan to use the Olympic and Paralympic Games as an opportunity to strengthen our relationship with Japan”

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