Ambassador's Blog

PM Abe makes the most of his UK visit

July 2013

The middle of June proved the busiest time yet this year for Japan-UK relations. Prime Minister Abe visited the UK to attend the G8 summit – located deliberately in Northern Ireland so the world could see the dramatic success of the peace process there. Aside from participating in the G8, Mr Abe accomplished much else during his brief stay. He held a bilateral summit with Prime Minister Cameron, gained a personal insight into the activities of Japanese companies in Northern Ireland and outlined his economic policy to the G8 leaders as well as to an illustrious audience at London’s Guildhall.

On the morning of Monday 17 June I had the pleasure of attending the bilateral UK-Japan summit meeting that took place on the margins of the G8 summit in the delightful setting of Lough Erne in Northern Ireland.  The two leaders discussed some of the main issues that were on the agenda of the summit, including Prime Minister Cameron’s three ‘T’s of trade, tax and transparency – that is to say, boosting trade as a key element of global economic growth, working to make tax systems fairer for all, including acting to tackle tax evasion, and promoting transparency so as to enable people to hold governments and companies to account.  They focused too on the desperate situation in Syria, vowing to step up their cooperation in the search for stability in that country.  They also exchanged views on North Korea, including its  development of nuclear weapons in defiance of UN Security Council Resolutions, and the issue of Pyongyang’s abduction of ordinary citizens from Japan and other countries.  PM Cameron expressed his full support for PM Abe’s position.

On bilateral issues, the two leaders welcomed the progress made towards expanding cooperation in the defence field.  This progress was illustrated on 4 July when I signed on behalf of the Japanese Government two agreements, namely the “Agreement on the Security of Information” and the “Agreement on the Framework of Defence Equipment”, with British Foreign Secretary William Hague.  Another important topic was that of a Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), with both Prime Minsters concurring on the need to work closely to step up the negotiations for such an agreement, which would confer considerable benefits on both sides.

Prime Minister Abe turned out to be the only one of the G8 leaders to stay in Belfast, spending two nights there.  On the evening of Tuesday 18 June, following the successful conclusion of the G8 summit, I had the opportunity to see Mr Abe visit the Titanic Belfast, to be met by Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson and his Deputy Martin McGuiness as well as members of the Japanese business community.  The Prime Minister also enjoyed the opportunity to tour the facility, which powerfully reflects Northern Ireland’s proud industrial heritage.  In his speech there, Prime Minister Abe emphasised his willingness to help upgrade the bilateral relationship between Northern Ireland and Japan and invited both the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to visit Japan for investment promotion.
The following day, on Wednesday 19 June, he was able to disseminate his message to a wider audience when he spoke at the Guildhall in the City.  He emphasised his personal commitment to his approach, declaring that “my economic policies are backed in all respects by my political will”. Most of his speech was taken up with his personal commitment to the structural reforms that are necessary to ensure the revitalisation of Japan’s economy, building upon the initial success of his bold monetary policy and budgetary measures.  He set out his aggressive reform agenda in a robust and determined manner, and I was thrilled by the audience’s enthusiastic response as they gave him a standing ovation.

Not long after Prime Minister Abe’s visit, my staff and I were involved in a series of events of a quite different nature. These were designed to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the arrival in the UK of five young samurai from the feudal clan of Choshu (modern-day Yamaguchi Prefecture), who have become known as the ‘Choshu Five’. They were followed shortly after by 19 young men from the Satsuma clan (Kagoshima Prefecture today). All of these people risked their lives in making the trip as foreign travel was strictly prohibited at that time. Their common purpose was to study in the UK, learn about this country’s advanced technology in engineering, railways and other fields, and apply this knowledge upon their return home in the cause of Japan’s modernisation. The Choshu Five pursued their studies mainly at University College London (UCL), where they were taken under the wing of Professor Alexander Williamson and his wife Catherine, who provided not only academic supervision but also pastoral care, including the very practical matter of lodging.

There were three main events related to the Choshu Five.  They were attended not only by people from the relevant British organisations but also by a number of visitors who had come over specially from Japan, including officials from Yamaguchi Prefecture.  The first event took place on the afternoon of Tuesday 2 July at Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey, where a monument dedicated to Professor and Mrs Williamson was unveiled.  Nearby were the graves of four young Japanese students who had fallen ill and passed away while in the UK – one of whom had been nursed until the end by the Williamsons.  At the ceremony I read out a letter from Prime Minister Abe expressing his gratitude to the Williamsons for their kindness and generosity all those years ago. The framed king-size letter from the Prime Minister, who is also from Yamaguchi, was presented to the Provost of UCL, Sir Malcolm Grant.

That evening the Embassy hosted a reception in honour of the Choshu Five, and the following evening UCL did likewise. The participants were treated to some fascinating accounts of what the young men had experienced. In my speeches I noted that it has contemporary relevance to commemorate the achievements of these young men a century and a half ago because, as I see it, there is much that today’s younger generation could learn and emulate from their strong sense of mission in pursuit of the national interest.


Keiichi Hayashi

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