British Prime Minister Tony Blair proclaimed a future of improved ties between Japan and Great Britain in a speech Monday at the British Embassy in Tokyo.The speech marked the official opening of Festival UK98, a series of events promoting British culture among Japanese. Blair called UK98 “a celebration of the fact that Britain and Japan are moving closer together, that the ties that bind our countries are getting stronger and stronger.”Blair also cited the importance of the exchange of people between Britain and Japan in deepening ties between the nations. “Today, diplomacy is people-to-people diplomacy. It’s not just conducted by the politicians, the businessmen and the diplomats.”More than 60,000 Japanese live in Britain, making them the world’s third largest overseas population of Japanese, he added. After delivering his speech at the ambassador’s residence, Blair and guests moved to a specially designed garden pavilion for a whiskey-tasting ceremony, while a Scottish rock band provided Celtic background music.An estimated 380 people attended the event, including Foreign Minister Keizo Obuchi and the wife of Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. The goal of UK98 “is to show that in Britain today, we have a country of energy and dynamism and creativity,” Blair told guests.”To the best of the old and the traditions in our country, we are adding the best of the new. And it is that combination of tradition and modernity that I believe lies at the heart of the Britain of the 21st century,” he said.

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