People | The Big Questions

EU ambassador a keen student of political and social changes across Asia

Strong growth potential seen in Asia and Europe

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

Name: Viorel Isticioaia-Budura
Title: Ambassador of EU (since December 2014)
URL: eeas.europa.eu/delegations/japan
DOB: July 31, 1952
Hometown: Oradea, Romania
Years in Japan: 7


Romanian Viorel Isticioaia-Budura, who heads the delegation of the European Union to Japan, draws inspiration from Asia’s cultures and developments in the belief they hint at our raison d’etre and at goals to pursue in order to strengthen international ties.

Isticioaia-Budura’s connection with Asia dates back to the early 1970s when he studied philosophy at the University of Bucharest alongside China’s language and literature at Nankai University in China’s city of Tianjin.

“(This) was my way of looking for an answer to the meaning of life,” he said of the focus of his studies in a recent interview with The Japan Times. “I was a student in China (from 1973 through 1977), I was eager to learn its history, philosophy, because it’s part of the classical values of the mankind.”

Having spent his early youth in communist Romania, Isticioaia-Budura, who joined the diplomatic scene in 1978, found an analogy to the struggles of communities cut off from the world mainly for political reasons in the symbolism behind Japan’s art of bonsai.

“I’ve seen myself through the prism of my condition those days in (the) early ’80s in a communist country, and bonsai appeared as a symbol of freedom of mind, vitality and a will to grow as a hint on how to live one’s life despite restraints,” he said. “People should aim for freedom in spite of constraints,” he added.

Romania’s political situation was not the only factor that shaped Isticioaia-Budura’s outlook, as over the past four decades he has closely observed political and societal transformations in Asia and correlations between Japan, China and South Korea.

He was first dispatched as a diplomat to Beijing in 1985, and in 1992 to Tokyo where he worked for the Embassy of Romania in Japan until 1996. In 2000, he assumed the position of ambassador to South Korea and two years later became ambassador to China where he served through 2011.

Isticioaia-Budura advocates for a greater engagement in strengthening international ties and highly evaluates Japan’s contribution to Asia’s development over the past decades.

“(In the 1980s) Japan was a very important participant in this process, stimulating, helping with its experience in westernization, in modernization, in technology, in management,” he said of the country’s contribution to China’s economic growth.

Isticioaia-Budura also believes that Japan, with its experience and expertise in China’s affairs, may play a crucial role in contributing to further growth of Asian markets that would also benefit the ties with Europe. “This is something the EU needs in the region … China should be seen as an opportunity,” he said, adding that he believes China may drive the growth of the region in the coming centuries. “The challenge for us is to connect with that together in the right way.”

“We, the Europeans, (the) U.S. and Japan are like-minded countries, … we have the same questions (about) what history has taught us,” he said. “We also have resources to work in a way that would contribute to the international public good.”

Isticioaia-Budura believes that, along with the economic partnership agreement concluded in December, Asia and Europe exhibit potential for growth in trade and other sectors and should expand the scope of their exchanges. He said that cooperation in fields, including higher education, science, technology, as well as environment protection agriculture would benefit both regions.

He said that both Asia and Europe are faced with demographic challenges such as aging societies and shrinking populations, in addition to threats of misusing new technologies.

“All these are issues in which we have to look with all our wisdom and creativity and we need to acknowledge (the problems) and compare notes,” he said. “(Asia and Europe need) a platform that would lead to future developments in technology, in innovation that can help (us) understand how we can cope with problems in the 21st century. Together, we can do more for the region’s international prosperity, peace (and) stability.”

The ambassador, who joined the European Union’s foreign diplomatic service in 2011, considers his role in the promotion of foreign relations and European policies the biggest achievement in his professional career, which enabled him to use his experience, expand diplomatic network and reach a wider set of audiences.

Isticioaia-Budura highlights the role of diplomats in strengthening international ties.

“Diplomacy is an art of connecting people,” he said, elaborating that these connections surpass different political systems, traditions, cultures, mentalities and customs.

In Isticioaia-Budura’s eyes, diplomacy at present requires further transparency and ambassadors should be more accessible to the public. Promoting open door policies by increasing dialogue over social media and designating physical venues where citizens can interact with ambassadors to learn more about the country and embassy are among his suggestions.

Isticioaia-Budura enjoys Japanese regional gourmet offerings that include specialties like sake and Japan’s hot springs, saying that many aspects of Japan’s culture display “care and love that the people put into making that.” He said they serve as a hint on how to enjoy life.

He believes that in their work, diplomats could refer to Japan’s concept of omotenashi, or Japanese hospitality, which helps connect people. He added that diplomatic service enables its representatives to “go out from the limited national fold of your culture of your identity” and to deepen understanding of world’s issues and share knowledge, which may eventually contribute to addressing them.


Dedicated to bettering Asian relationships

Born and raised in communist Romania, Viorel Isticioaia-Budura dedicated most of his career to Asian studies and to strengthening relations between his country and the Asian region. He developed interest in Asia’s affairs in his youth, and in 1974 he enrolled in China’s Nankai University in Tianjin where he studied Chinese language and literature and gained a bachelor’s degree in 1977. He also has a diploma in philosophy and history from Romania’s University of Bucharest.

He started his career in diplomacy in 1978 under Romania’s last communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu and has since served as minister-counselor at the Embassy of Romania in Japan in the 1990s and as ambassador to South Korea from 2000 until 2002 and China from 2002 until 2011. Fluent in Chinese, Isticioaia-Budura in 1984 translated “Midnight,” a representative work of Chinese novelist Mao Dun into Romanian.

In 2011, he joined the European Union’s diplomatic service, the European External Action Service, as managing director for Asia and the Pacific. He assumed his current position in December 2014.

The Big Questions is a Monday interview series showcasing prominent figures who have a strong connection to Japan.