Ambassador's Blog

A year of milestones and achievements in bilateral ties

December 2013

As 2013 draws to a close, it is natural to look back at what has transpired in Japan-UK relations over the past year. There have been a number of notable developments.

A year has passed since Shinzo Abe embarked on his second stint as Prime Minister of Japan.  His radical approach to reviving the Japanese economy, widely known as ‘Abenomics’, has caused a stir both at home and around the world. In Japan a renewed sense of optimism has become evident among the general public, reflected in a significant rise in consumer spending engendered by the solid growth of the economy.  The improving outlook has attracted considerable attention in the UK and elsewhere. In the quality British newspapers there are frequent articles on Abenomics, what it has achieved so far and the formidable challenges ahead, not least the need for policies that will encourage long-term growth in Japan. While nobody would claim that Japan has solved all its economic problems, Prime Minister Abe’s declaration that “Japan is back!” commands growing respect.

In 2013 we have witnessed two historical milestones in Japan-UK ties. Firstly, this year marked the passage of 150 years since the arrival in the UK of five brave young samurai from the Choshu region of Japan (present-day Yamaguchi Prefecture) in defiance of the prohibition on foreign travel in force at the time. These young men studied at University College London, took back to Japan the knowledge they had acquired of the UK’s advanced technology and modern society, and became leaders in Japan’s modernisation drive. The other landmark we have celebrated this year was the 400th anniversary of the arrival in Japan of the Clove, an English ship bearing gifts and a letter from King James I for the Tokugawa Shogunate. We can thus say that the warm friendship our two countries enjoy today can be traced back four centuries to that event and the formal documents that were then exchanged.

Dressing up as the Choshu Five and Prof Williamson at Japan Matsuri 2013

In the political and diplomatic arena, Prime Minister Abe attended the G8 Summit, hosted by the UK at Loch Erne, Northern Ireland. Before that gathering, he and Prime Minister Cameron held their own bilateral meeting, at which they addressed a number of key issues. The meeting of minds that took place there reaffirmed the cooperative nature of our ties and contributed to the success of the Summit which followed. On his way back from the Summit, Mr Abe delivered a speech at London’s Guildhall on his economic strategy. The warm and appreciative reception from the audience went a long way to deepening understanding among policymakers and economists here of what he is trying to achieve in Japan. Meanwhile, visits have been exchanged at foreign ministerial level as well. In April, Foreign Minister Kishida came to London for the G8 Foreign Minister’s Summit, and in October Foreign Secretary Hague went to Tokyo to attend our two countries’ second Strategic Dialogue.

A particularly significant area in which our two countries have agreed to work more closely is that of defence cooperation. This was symbolised by the signing of the Defence Equipment Cooperation Framework and the Information Security Agreement in July. Meanwhile, our economic ties go from strength to strength. Japan’s direct investment in the UK in the nine-month period from January to September this year amounted to £5.87bn (¥939.6bn), representing a 38 per cent increase over the same period last year and almost equalling the figure for all of 2012 (£5.93bn; ¥948.1bn). In fact, we may not be far off the level of investment recorded in the best-ever year of 2011 (£7.01bn; ¥1,121.7bn).

Thus it is fair to say that 2013 has witnessed some major events in a number of different areas that have left our bilateral relations looking ever more robust. With confidence that this favourable trend will continue in 2014, may I wish you all an enjoyable festive season as well as good health and prosperity in the year ahead.

Keiichi Hayashi

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