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Lecture delivered by Minister Hiroyuki Kishino at the Annual Japan Local Government Centre (CLAIR)'s Japan Day Seminar


10 Feb 05

Japan-UK Relations in the era of globalisation - Grassroots exchanges and Global Partnership

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to have been invited to speak at this Japan Day Seminar today. May I say at the outset how grateful I am to CLAIR for making this highly worthwhile event possible.

Globalisation is a controversial issue. One can argue either for or against it, depending on the angle from which one approaches it. Today I would like to tackle the subject from a decidedly positive viewpoint, talking first about the growing volume of private-sector exchanges between Japan and the UK and then touching upon Japan-UK policy coordination on key international issues in an ever-shrinking world.

Clearly, globalisation is part of our day-to-day life. Cross-border communication involving corporations, organisations and citizens takes place more freely than ever before. The flow of goods and money as well as technology exceeds anything we have experienced previously. Huge volumes of information are disseminated around the world in a split second via various forms of media and the Internet.

Directly or indirectly, this trend influences a country's foreign relations, and even more so its domestic political and economic life. The distinction between internal policy matters and foreign policy issues has become blurred. It is not always straightforward to distinguish the r ole played by the government from that of the private sector. Moreover, there are signs of a change in thinking in international law, which has been based so far on the concept of the sovereign nation-state. In pursuing diplomacy it has become more important than ever before for governments, besides deliberating and negotiating with their counterparts, to pay attention to public opinion on both sides. In other words, a government not only has to hear and mobilize its domestic public opinion but is also required to assess and appeal directly to public opinion on the other side.

Both the Japanese and British peoples have benefited tremendously from globalisation. If we put aside for a moment the cost of living in London, which Japanese visitors find so high, and the challenge to most Britons presented by the Japanese language, the barriers to travel in both directions have never been lower. Information about each other's country abounds in the print media and on the Internet. With four airlines vying for customers with direct flights between the two capitals, low-priced tickets and a variety of tour package s are available. If one is inclined to go, it is just a matter of getting up and going! Indeed , in the almost 30 years between 1973 and 2002, the number of Japanese visitors to the UK rose three times to 380,000, while the volume of British people travelling in the opposite direction increased five times t o 220,000. Thus, while the geographical distance between the East and West ends of Eurasia remains constant, technology and modern lifestyles seem to have brought us virtually to each other's doorstep.

Japan and the UK enjoy a mature relationship. While the ties between the two governments are obviously important, the extent of our private-sector links is now quite remarkable. Cultural events such as concerts, stage performances and museum exhibitions are largely the province of private organisations and individuals. The same applies to studying overseas as well as to academic and scientific exchanges. This is even more the case with tourism and business. Meanwhile, sushi and other forms of Japanese cuisine are a normal part of daily life in London, while the works of Haruki Murakami feature frequently in literary conversations. Indeed, Murakami's stage production The Elephant Vanishes played to full houses in a suburban location for two consecutive seasons. On the other side, a large number of Japanese people have taken to gardening in the British style, while the taking of "afternoon tea" is very much in vogue in Japan today. In most of these instances of cultural exchange, the driving force clearly comes from private organisations and individuals. Japan-UK exchanges on the grass-roots level therefore depend largely on market forces and private initiatives.

That said, this year has been designated as the "Year of EU-Japan People-to-People Exchanges." Its purpose is to encourage participation in various events promoting grass-roots links between Japan and the members of the European Union. In the UK more than 50 events have already been registered, and the number is growing steadily. On the 17th of this month, this series of events lasting a whole year will be officially inaugurated in London, accompanied by a Japanese dance performance. I hope that everyone in a position to initiate such events will take the plunge!

Now what role does the government play in the ins and outs of such private-sector exchange? The government 's primary responsibility towards the individuals and organisations initiating cultural exchange and the myriad related activities is to offer advice and support from a foreign policy perspective while respecting the aims and ideas of the people engaged in the relevant projects. We will not intervene but will help if needed.

Of course, there are certain areas in which the government needs to play an active role. I am thinking here of cultural activities and exchange programmes that may not necessarily be easy to bring to fruition in commercial terms but which nonetheless would have considerable significance and value once realised. Large-scale , costly ventures such as kabuki performances and sumo demonstrations are among such cases. Many people here may recall the sumo tournament in London, a feature of the Japan Festival 1991, which was jointly supported by the government and the private sector. It is a fact, though, that a venture of this scale becomes possible only once in a decade.

The promotion of Japanese language education overseas is another example of an activity requiring Japanese government support. To this end the Japan Foundation runs the London Language Centre, whose mission is to support the teaching of Japanese throughout the UK. As its main function, the Centre runs courses to help teachers of Japanese to improve their knowledge and expertise. For this purpose, it is equipped with a wealth of valuable teaching resources. Meanwhile, it is pleasing to note that the number of British secondary school students who study Japanese tripled between 1993 and 2003, and now exceeds ten thousand.

Another aspect of the government's role - although this probably does not apply in the context of Japan-UK relations - is to make efforts to remove obstacles to activities that promote cultural exchange.

Given the considerable extent and scope of exchange already under way between Japan and the UK, it is scarcely realistic to expect the Embassy to be informed of all activities and closely involved in each case: there is a limit to what we can do. In this regard , we value the framework within which the Steering Committee drew up the Japan-UK People-to-People Exchange Plan . It has been extremely useful for sharing information and for offering an opportunity to work together. We at the Embassy are most grateful for the enthusiastic participation of so many dedicated organisations and individuals, and we intend to strengthen our ties of co-operation with them. No doubt we can count on your continued support of our endeavours.

Incidentally, the Embassy wishes to do everything it can to encourage cultural and grass-roots exchanges in the regions outside London. Some of the things we could do might include allowing events to take place under the E mbassy's auspices , holding events under joint sponsorship, sending speakers and introducing to the organisers of events people who could help in certain fields.

In this regard, let me add a footnote. As grass-roots exchange proliferates, a considerable number of competent and qualified people are available as a result of the JET Programme, which has been such a resounding success over the years and represents a valuable resource. We can therefore tap into the expertise of a network of young Britons who have hands-on experience of Japan. They are ideally placed to function as bridges between our two peoples simply from the way they talk about Japan in their localities and by their active involvement in regional organisations devoted to encouraging mutual understanding. No doubt the JET Programme, as one of a small number of government-led schemes, will go from strength to strength in the coming years .

As the process of globalisation unfolds, local governments are energetically stepping on to the international stage. Today 12 prefectures and one municipality have representatives stationed in London in one way or another , covering around one-quarter of Japan 's regions . They spare no effort in providing information on their respective regions, supporting exchanges, soliciting investment and facilitating business contacts. They also act as "missionaries" in making their traditions and local cultures more accessible to people here. In this sense, t hey are important players in Japan-UK exchange. Just as Japan and the UK at the national level have a long history of interaction, one can reasonably expect an expansion of region-to-region exchange, whether in a rural or an industrial context. Such activities would typically include cultivating business partnerships , concluding twin-city arrangements and promoting grass-roots exchange.

Aichi Expo 2005 is an example of a large-scale project brought about by co-operation between the central government, local governments and the relevant communities, which will surely leave a lasting legacy. There is now just over a month before the Expo opens. Its theme is Nature's Wisdom. The preparation of all the facilities, including the British Pavilion, is proceeding steadily. I really hope the Expo will prompt many of you to visit or revisit Japan.

Now let us turn our eyes from private-sector exchange to government-to-government relations in the era of globalisation. Foreign policy, defence, public safety and intelligence are the fields for which the government has undoubted responsibility. Japan-UK co-operation in these fields has been deepened as well as broadened over the decade. However, this productive partnership should not be taken for granted. It has been made possible through the untiring efforts of a number of dedicated people on both sides spanning many years. Yet , complacency is always a danger. Thus it is important to review from time to time the overall bilateral relationship and to give proper guidance at the political level concerning the direction our relationship should take and the priority issues on which our two governments should work together. Constant policy dialogue at the working level and timely talks at the political level are both required .

The visit to Tokyo by Foreign Secretary Straw last month was quite timely, providing an opportunity for just such an exercise. Mr Straw talked with Prime Minister Koizumi and Foreign Minister Machimura respectively. The foreign ministers' meeting was the second in two and a half months. The two ministers confirmed that bilateral relations were in excellent condition and that Japan-UK co-operation was going well. As you probably know, we often say that the main problem characterising Japan-UK relations is that there is no pressing issue! Well, this is not a joke. The foreign ministers exchanged views on a wide rage of international issues, from the Korean peninsula to the Middle East and from the recent tsunami to United Nations reform. They agreed to promote policy consultations and co-ordination on these issues of mutual interest on a global scale. They undertook to work closely on Iraq, to co-operate on Africa and climate change so as to help make the G8 summit a success, and to collaborate to prevent Iran from going nuclear. This gives a fair indication of our priorities for the time being .

Now let me elaborate on Iraq in particular, which will continue to command widespread attention. This year we will witness the moment of truth. Three nationwide votes are scheduled in Iraq this year. The elections for a transitional national assembly have already been held. This summer a draft constitution will be worked out, and in autumn a referendum on it will be conducted. Then, by the end of the year more elections will take place for the National Assembly based upon the constitution, and a full-fledged government will be formally established.

In the recent elections voting was obstructed by violence or the threat of violence in some Sunni areas. The voters' turnout ratio among Sunnis seems to have been low. Yet the fact that the elections were held on schedule despite all the difficulties should not be underestimated. It was moving to see so many Iraqi people queuing in front of polling stations to vote - a right which they had been denied for many years. Iraqis demonstrated their will to participate in politics. We welcome the fact that the political process has got under way.

The challenges before us, however, are formidable. First, Sunni representatives must be involved in the drafting of a constitution as well as in any transitional government irrespective of the election returns. It is crucial that the complicated reality of Iraq be reflected in the political process even though this is a delicate task. It is also important that the international community fully support the work of drafting the constitution by making available its expertise. Here one can look to the United Nations for a strong initiative. On the whole, it is imperative that the momentum of the political process be maintained.

Second, it is critically important that the law and order situation be improved in Iraq. This is a prerequisite for the political process moving forward and for economic rehabilitation being achieved. For this purpose it is crucial that external assistance continue to be offered for the training of the Iraqi security forces. Since they comprise the body responsible for internal security, their capabilities need to be beyond question.

Third, economic rehabilitation continues to be a major challenge. This includes such elements as power and water supplies, medical services, job creation and the whole range of industrial activities. There are so many challenges to be met in this area.

Although there is still a long way to go, Japan and the UK are committed to working together to ensure that a democratic, stable and prosperous Iraq emerges. To this end, we compare notes and co-ordinate policies quite closely on various levels. This is all the more relevant to both governments as the mandate of the SDF units , comprising 600 personnel , operating in Samawah for humanitarian assistance has been extended for one more year, while British forces are to ta ke over responsibility for security in Al Muthanna province from the Dutch contingent as the latter's mandate expires in March . Japan and the UK are in the same boat as far as Iraq is concerned.

Turning to the reconstruction of Iraq, for the time being Japan has committed a total of $5.0 billion of ODA, of which $1. 4 billion in grants has been disbursed for immediate use. Tokyo plans to extend soft loans of up to $3.5 billion for Iraq's longer-term reconstruction needs. In this regard, project-finding missions will be dispatched when security conditions in Iraq permit.

Iraq will continue to be a key area for Japan-UK co-operation on the global scene for some time . When history is reviewed in the future, Iraq may turn out to be a symbol of highly effective Japan-UK policy collaboration.

In conclusion, Japan and the UK have forged a dynamic partnership featuring close co-operation on the weighty global issues of our times while giving free rein to the development of thriving private-sector and grass-roots ties. I am confident that our cordial ties will continue to prosper, to the enduring benefit of both our peoples and of the wider international community. I will spare no effort to make sure that my confidence is justified.

Thank you.

Related links:
  • JLGC Annual Japan Day Seminar
  • JLGC website



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