I am truly overjoyed to be able to make an official visit to the three countries of Thailand, Cambodia and Lao PDR, which all lie in the Mekong River basin. I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to the governments of the three countries for extending invitations to visit.
It was in 1980, during my student years, that I first visited Thailand, and since that time I have had fond feelings for the region. In particular, with regard to Thailand, Their Majesties The Emperor and Empress have visited the country on a number of occasions since 1964, and at times I have heard them speak about these visits. In addition, I have had the opportunity to meet members of the Royal Family of Thailand, who have visited the Crown Prince's Residence at the invitation of Their Majesties. It is through such experiences that I have learned how deeply rooted the history of relations between Japan and Thailand is. I hope that my visit on this occasion will provide an opportunity to further deepen the bonds between Japan and the region.
Furthermore, despite the fact that His Majesty the King of Thailand is currently hospitalized, I am truly appreciative to have been granted an opportunity to meet His Majesty, together with Her Majesty the Queen. In addition, I would be happy if this meeting provides an opportunity to renew old friendships with the members of the Royal Family of Thailand.
On my visit to Thailand in 1980 I was accompanied by the late Professor Yoneo Ishii, Professor Emeritus of Kyoto University. It was an excellent experience for me, because as I travelled around the historical stages of the Thai Royal dynasties, starting with Bangkok and including Sukhothai and Ayutthaya, I was able to learn about the history and culture of Thailand. I also remember fondly seeing the old kilns that used to produce Swankhalok pottery, which was also much prized by tea masters in Japan during the Edo Period, and turned my thoughts to the history of exchange between Japan and Thailand.
Thailand has particularly strong links with Japan, and I am aware that there are many local people who have associations with Japan and also many Japanese people who reside in Thailand. During my visit on this occasion I would like to speak directly to these people who have made such efforts in bilateral exchange and particularly the people who provided support and sympathy at the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake, so that I may express my appreciation to them myself.
It will be the first time for me to visit both Cambodia and the Lao PDR. With regard to Cambodia, I have met His Majesty Preah Bat Samdech Preah Boromneath Norodom Sihamoni and Prime Minister Hun Sen of the Royal Government of Cambodia on the occasions of their visits to Japan, and I recall having the opportunity to talk about the enduring ties with Japan and the path to peace and reconstruction following the long civil war. During my visit to Cambodia I will lay flowers at monuments to commemorate a person who was killed in the line of duty while engaged in peacekeeping operations (PKO), and a person who perished while serving as a United Nations volunteer in support of elections, where I would like to remember the role that Japanese people have played in the peace process in Cambodia. In addition, I will be taking this opportunity to visit Angkor Wat, where I am also looking forward with great anticipation to talking with the Japanese researchers who have worked diligently in the restoration and preservation of this World Heritage Site, which is the pride of Cambodia.
Furthermore, I hear that during the Khmer Dynasty a great storage reservoir was constructed and various devices created to ensure that water could be channeled to the surrounding fields. As a person with an interest in the history of links between people and water, I hope to take a look for myself at the actual site during my visit.
With regard to the Lao PDR, I will be meeting with President Choummaly Sayasone and Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong, both of whom I have met previously during their respective visits to Japan. I hear that the Lao PDR was the first country to which Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV) were dispatched and during my itinerary this time I will be able to meet with young people who are engaged in actions to serve as a bridge for cooperation between Japan and Lao PDR. I will also be visiting a martial arts center constructed with assistance from Japan and I am scheduled to meet with the Laotian people who are learning martial arts in that center under the tutelage of Japanese instructors, which is something I am looking forward to. Furthermore, I also hope to be able to have a good look round the wonderful old capital city of Luang Prabang -a World Heritage Site- and feel something of its history for myself.
Next I would like to raise three points I think the three countries I will be visiting on this occasion share in common.
Firstly, through my visit, I would like to think about the history of the three countries and the history of exchange between each country and Japan. As symbolized by the old Japanese settlement at Ayutthaya, this region has a long and enduring history of exchange with Japan and each of the countries has developed their own unique culture.
When talking about relations with Japan, with regard to Thailand and Cambodia, I believe that the relations with the royal houses are also an important factor. On my visit to the three countries, through diligently carrying out my duties to the best of my abilities, I hope in some small way to further advance these long-running friendly ties between our countries. I am also looking forward to what promises to be a good opportunity to learn about development in the region and ties with Japan.
Secondly, I would like to deepen my observations on water-related issues in the region. Three years ago, on the occasion of my visit to the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam, I was able to learn a great deal about the role played by the Mekong River in linking the region. The countries I will visit this time are also countries of the Mekong River basin and have developed, so to speak, in coexistence with the river. During my visit to the Lao PDR, as I sail down the Mekong River, I would like to deepen my understanding about the role the river itself has played and also about the links within the Mekong region as a whole, including the three countries I will be visiting.
From the perspective of water and natural disasters, in the video message I prepared for the Sixth World Water Forum, held in March this year in Marseille, I also mentioned the floods in Thailand that occurred in autumn last year. Now that the regions affected are recovering from the tremendous damage inflicted by the floods, I would like to take this opportunity to hear from Thai government officials and other related persons about the situation at the time of the floods and the subsequent measures that have been implemented. I would like to consider ways and means of responding to the issue of water-related disasters in the Asian region, which account for 80 percent of all such disasters around the world.
The third point is exchange among people. During my visit I would like to talk with as many people as possible who are engaged at the forefront of exchange activities in all the countries. I would like to express my respect for the role they have each played in strengthening relations between countries and commend them for their efforts. I would also be delighted if my visit presents a good opportunity to deepen interest in Japan among the younger generations of the three countries.
As you noted in your question, while Princess Masako faces ups and downs in terms of her health, through various efforts she is gradually expanding the scope of her activities. From now on, while taking care of herself and without haste, I hope that she will little by little expand the range of her activities to the extent that is possible. I hope that everyone will continue to warmly watch over her.
Taking into comprehensive consideration the distances involved, the length of the visit and the various events that are scheduled to take place during the visit to the three countries, and as a result of consultation with doctors, it was decided that I would make the visit alone. Princess Masako was also very gratified to receive an invitation from the governments of the three countries and both she and I regret that she will not be able to accompany me this time.
There is a long history of exchange between the Royal Family of Thailand, which I will be visiting on this occasion, and the Imperial Family of Japan. Their Majesties have also visited Thailand on several occasions, the most recent being their visit to attend the 60th Anniversary Celebrations of the Accession to the Throne of His Majesty the King of Thailand in 2006. Also, with regard to the United Kingdom, Their Majesties received an invitation to attend a luncheon in commemoration of the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II last month, where they deepened ties with Her Majesty and other members of the British Royal Family. On my upcoming visit to Thailand I am truly grateful to receive the hospitality of Their Majesties the King and Queen of Thailand and other members of the Thai Royal Family. I hope that my visit will contribute to further deepening relations with the Thai Royal Family.
In the past I have spoken about the activities undertaken by members of Royal families under the prevailing conditions in their various countries. As your question relates to the systems of governance in various countries, and from my position I would like to refrain from making any comment.