Ambassador's Blog

All eyes on Davos

February 2014

While some people ease their way gently into the New Year, this is not usually the case for heads of government.  Since the beginning of the year Prime Minister Abe’s schedule has been as hectic as ever.  A case in point was his participation last month at the World Economic Forum in Davos where, as the first Japanese Prime Minister to do so, he delivered the Keynote Speech.  This naturally attracted the very keen attention of the world’s media.

On that occasion the Prime Minister outlined his Government’s policy to revitalise Japan’s economy, widely dubbed ‘Abenomics’.   He expressed confidence that Japan would break free of deflation, that wages and consumption would rise and that the fiscal situation would be improved.  He cited the atmosphere of renewed optimism that visitors to Japan routinely observe these days, epitomised by the public’s eager anticipation of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics.

Mr Abe made a particular point of addressing the issues of deregulation and structural reform, the third of the three ‘arrows’ of his policy and an area which is regarded as most challenging but as crucial for ensuring the sustainable growth of the Japanese economy.  He spoke specifically of the Government’s plans to liberalise the electricity market, to build up medical care as an industry, for instance through making the most of Japan’s breakthroughs in regenerative medicine, and to tackle other politically sensitive areas including agriculture.  He stressed the importance of Japan’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Government’s plans to push ahead with the Japan-EU Partnership Agreement.  In addition, he articulated his vision for a drastic strengthening of the role of women in Japan’s economy, which would have a huge positive impact on the nation’s GDP in the future.

Photographs from Cabinet Public Relations Office Government of Japan

A highly significant element of the Prime Minister’s remarks was his emphasis on the importance of peace for the prosperity of the world and of Japan’s role in its maintenance.  Based on what Japan had done hitherto, for instance through the participation of Self-Defence Forces personnel in peacekeeping and humanitarian relief operations, including the most recent example of the disaster relief activities following the devastating typhoon in the Philippines, he reaffirmed Japan’s  determination to pursue a policy of more proactively contributing to peace.  In the regional context he emphasised the importance of restraining military expansion and of abiding by the established international rules, including those on freedom of navigation.

On the subject of Japan’s relations with China, which have been unsettled by that country’s attempts to challenge and change the peacefully established status quo by force and coercion, Mr Abe had referred in a press briefing to the oft-cited example of the pre-World War I relationship between Britain and Germany, whose close economic ties unfortunately failed to prevent the drift into war exactly 100 years ago.  His remarks were somehow misinterpreted but, as he explicitly stated then and there and as I pointed out in my letter to the Editor of the Financial Times on 29 January, his clear message was to emphasise the absolute need never to repeat the same mistake of resorting to war. His comments at Davos were thus in line with what has been his stance all along – that Japan wants peace and friendship with China, which can best be achieved through dialogue at the highest level.

All in all, at Davos Prime Minister Abe projected the image of a Japan confident about its future, its place in the world and its ability to help shape events for the better.  His bold vision was in sharp contrast with Japan’s seemingly low profile at the time I took up this post in London three years ago.  Since then, and particularly since Mr Abe took office, the world has begun to view Japan with renewed interest and respect.

The United Kingdom has all along been one of Japan’s closest partners and allies on various international issues, and our cooperation continues to thrive.  Recently the heads of our respective diplomatic services met and engaged in a wide-ranging and deep exchange of views on a host of regional and global issues.  Meanwhile, Japan has just set up a National Security Council, very much following the British example.  In fact, the head of the NSC, Mr Shotaro Yachi, visited the UK for a meeting with his British counterpart, Sir Kim Darroch, as soon as his appointment was made, thus paving the way for  even closer coordination between our two countries on the most critical issues pertaining to peace and security.

These active international engagements at the beginning of the year, I believe, will turn out to be a harbinger of more positive news coming from Japan.

Keiichi Hayashi

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