Looking back on Japan – Sir David Warren
The following speech was delivered to members of the Japan Society by new chairman Sir David Warren, on Thursday 10 January. Sir David reflected on his time as British Ambassador to Japan and considered the future of Anglo-Japanese relations.
Once more, I must thank the Japan Society for inviting me to give my annual report on Japan and UK/Japan relations. This time, of course, I am doing so not as British Ambassador but as incoming Chairman of the Society.
Pamela and I left Tokyo at the conclusion of my tour as Ambassador in November. We had nearly four and a half fascinating years in Japan. Now I am about to leave the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It is a great privilege to be able to retain links with the country where I have spent a third of my career by taking over from Christopher Purvis as Chairman of this Society. I want to start by thanking Christopher for all that he achieved during six distinguished years in charge of the Japan Society, and also David Cairns for holding the fort so capably during the interregnum.
Let’s start by looking back at 2012. It was the year in which the three-year experiment of the reformist coalition government led by the Democratic Party of Japan came to a dramatic end. The Liberal Democratic Party was returned to power in a landslide victory (of sorts) in the December general election. It was the year in which Japan/China relations deteriorated dramatically with the upsurge of tension around the Senkaku Islands. This in turn contributed to the slowing down of the Japanese economy after a surge of growth following the terrible events of 2011. It was the year in which political debate in Japan was dominated by an increasingly polarised argument over the future of nuclear power.
And it was the year in which bilateral UK/Japan relations were strengthened by a very successful visit to Japan by the Prime Minister, David Cameron. This saw the signature of a new Joint Statement by the two Prime Ministers. Above all, it was the year in which the Olympics and Paralympics, and the Diamond Jubilee, gave all of us in the British Embassy a wonderful platform to promote the many ways in which the links between our two countries have strengthened in recent years.
First, the political scene. With no party having a veto-proof majority in either house of the Diet, former Prime Minister Noda spent most of the year struggling to get parliamentary business done. He was battling with the main Opposition parties and with multiple defections within his own party.
His main aim was to push through the measures needed to fix the long-term problems in the Japanese economy. This meant fiscal consolidation to tackle the growing debt mountain (230% of Gross Domestic Product, albeit very little borrowed from the international markets). Central to this was an increase in consumption tax to cover growing social security expenditure. He also wanted to see Japanese participation in the US-led Trans Pacific Partnership free trade arrangement. This could be an important lever to de-regulate those areas of the Japanese economy still protected at the behest of special interest groups. And Noda was also trying also to re-start Japan’s nuclear power generation, however modestly, after the disaster of Fukushima in 2011.
The proposed increase in consumption tax in particular soaked up most of Noda’s political capital during the first half of the year. Eventually, in June, he got the agreement of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito opposition, in return for ditching some of the key elements of the DPJ’s social security policy platform. In August, he got the necessary legislation through the Diet with opposition support. But 57 DPJ MPs, led by Ichiro Ozawa, former DPJ leader and Secretary-General, deserted him and 50 of them were expelled from the party shortly afterwards.
Noda’s popularity ratings were low at the start of the year, and remained low throughout 2012. The LDP’s ratings were not much more impressive, even after former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe became leader in September. Increasingly, those asked by the opinion pollsters said that they preferred “none of the above”. Cabinet reshuffles designed to bring the DPJ together had no effect. Noda staved off a general election for most of the year. But eventually he bowed to the inevitable and dissolved the Lower House in December.
The LDP were returned to power with 294 seats (325 with its coalition partner, the Komeito, included) and the DPJ were reduced to 57, losing over two-thirds of their MPs in the House of Representatives, and only just ahead of the Restoration Party, headed by former Governor of Tokyo Shintaro Ishihara and Mayor of Osaka Toru Hashimoto, whose populist nationalist platform won them 54 seats. Abe has no absolute majority in the Upper House. His main political focus in 2013 will be getting as strong a result as possible in the next Upper House elections, which will probably be in July.
The return of the LDP has been described in some quarters as “Japan lurching to the right”. I think we should be careful about leaping to conclusions. For a start, the LDP’s victory is not a ringing endorsement of the party’s platform – as Abe has himself acknowledged. We have been here before. The DPJ’s landslide victory in 2009 was a repudiation of the failures of the LDP and the old “iron triangle” of politicians, bureaucrats and big business. The victory of the LDP last month (on the lowest turn-out in any Lower House election since the Second World War) was a rejection of the failures of the DPJ after just over three years in office. There has also been a marked convergence of both policy and politics between Government and Opposition in the course of 2012, although maybe not as comprehensively as those in the Japanese media arguing for a realignment of political forces and a cross-party coalition would have liked to see.
The new Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, returns to the office from which he had to resign in 2007 following bad Upper House election results and in the face of debilitating illness. He believes in upholding and strengthening the US/Japan Alliance, tackling the constraints in the Japanese Constitution that inhibit Japan’s playing as active a defence role worldwide as some of its allies would like to see, and in Japan’s adopting a more self-confident attitude, nationally and internationally. He has appointed a number of Cabinet Ministers with similar views. Inevitably there will be speculation that this means a more hawkish stance on regional issues. The immediate focus of this speculation will be on Japan’s relations with China, where 2012 has been a very bad year.
Japan/China relations went through a bad patch in 2010, when a Chinese fishing boat and its crew were arrested off the Senkaku Islands near Okinawa after a collision with the Japanese Coastguard. More recently, there have been concerns in Japan across the political spectrum about aggressive Chinese behaviour towards other East Asian countries on maritime territorial issues.
All this came to a head in September when the Japanese Government purchased three of the five Senkaku Islands from their private owner. There was a violent reaction from the Chinese, who continue to assert that the islands are theirs: diplomatic protests were followed by violent attacks on Japanese interests across China.
The Japanese were understandably shocked by this response: they had thought that the purchase of the islands was the best way of heading off an even more provocative stand by Tokyo Governor Ishihara, and that they had done all they could to keep the Chinese in the picture. The temperature was raised further when a Chinese maritime surveillance aircraft entered the islands’ air space in December and a number of Japanese Air Self-defence Force F-15s were scrambled. Concerns continue about the dangers of an accidental escalation. The Chinese Ambassador in Tokyo was summoned by the MFA earlier this week over incursions by Chinese Government ships.
The attacks on Japanese individuals and companies had an immediate impact on economic activity. Major automobile companies were very exposed – China accounts for 26% of Nissan’s global car sales and Toyota’s sales fell by 40% – the two companies sold 100,000 fewer cars in China last year than in 2011. Over 60,000 seat reservations on Japan-China flights were cancelled in September and October. 15% fewer tourist visas to Chinese nationals were issued in September. China/Japan trade has fallen for the first time in three years. Japan/China trade and investment links were worth $350 billion in 2011, and China accounts for 20% of all Japanese exports (although foreign direct investment has been less badly affected). This sudden deterioration in the relationship between the second and third largest economies in the world should therefore be of major concern to us all.
The British Government does not have a position on the precise issue of the ownership of the islands (on which the Japanese Government does not accept that there is a dispute). The US Administration takes a similar view although Washington has made clear to both parties that the islands are covered by the US/Japan Security Treaty.
Nonetheless, the violence in China against Japanese interests was shocking and deplorable. The most important thing is that both countries should do all they can to ensure that the situation is managed and that there is no unintentional escalation. The Japanese Government have made repeatedly clear – without altering their stance on the essential issue – that this is their intention, and I know that efforts are continuing to keep contacts alive and maintain lines of communication.
Some commentators have expressed concern that the new Japanese Government is more likely to be hawkish on this and other security issues. The Prime Minister’s statements during the election campaign on boosting the Self-Defence Forces and the need to revise the Constitution will have reinforced the views of those who believe that we are seeing a return to nationalism. But Abe’s record as Prime Minister in 2006, when he visited China before he visited the US, and helped to restore contacts after the controversy of his predecessor Koizumi’s visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, was more pragmatic.
Business’s views are important. They want to see a stable Japan/China relationship to ensure that trade and investment begins to grow again. I was struck by the number of senior Japanese business figures who spoke to me over the autumn in very strong terms about the irresponsibility of Japanese nationalists in provoking a row that had such damaging economic impact.
That is one of the reasons why I think that we should judge by deeds rather than words, before assuming that the new Government represents a radical change of direction.
Another area of comment on the new Government has been economic policy. The appointment of Taro Aso, the last LDP Prime Minister, as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, indicates that the new Government is determined to wrest fiscal policy away from Finance Ministry and Bank of Japan orthodoxy, and move towards a looser monetary policy, inflation-targeting, and a return to public spending to kick-start economic growth.
Economic policy was the key issue in the election campaign, as the growth fuelled by reconstruction in the first half of the year, at one point was the fastest in the G7, began to slow in the third quarter. There is increasing concern in some quarters about the pressure that the new Government is putting on the Bank of Japan. Some see this as a threat to the Bank’s independence. (Although it shouldn’t be forgotten that pressure on the Bank to adopt a more accommodative policy didn’t start when the LDP succeeded the DPJ: it has been a constant theme of the last twelve months in the Japanese political debate.)
As the year ended, the markets were anticipating a change of policy; the yen was falling, the Nikkei was at an eight-year high, and the Bank announced its fifth round of quantitative easing in 2012. The Government is about to announce extra spending worth about 2% of GDP. Finance Minister Aso has said that the Government will not feel the need to stick to the annual cap on bond issuance. So we are moving back into “spend, spend, spend” territory.
It is not yet clear what the implications of a change of policy will be for structural reform. The Governor of the Bank of Japan has consistently argued that this is the real key to sustainable growth – particularly deregulation, and the increased participation in the workforce by women and older people.
Deregulation underpins one of the major developments of the year in our bilateral relationship – the agreement at the November EU Trade Council to open negotiations on an EU/Japan Economic Partnership Agreement. This is of potentially enormous significance. It will help expansion of trade and investment between the EU and Japan. It should also help to develop a closer political relationship between Japan and Europe.
But getting to the point where the EU agreed to open negotiations was not an easy process. It involved a lot of work by the UK, as the leader of those EU countries in favour of an Agreement. It meant persuading the sceptics that this was the way in which we could not only maximise our economic potential but also help the process whereby those parts of the Japanese economy still over-regulated and protected could be opened up to more effective competition. Deregulation is at the heart of that process. Nothing should be done now to jeopardise it – not least because the EPA with Europe is part of a broader free trade strategy for Japan, which depends enormously on its export markets – Europe, China and South Korea, ASEAN, the US and the countries of the Trans-Pacific Partnership – as its domestic market shrinks.
The other manor change that we are likely to see with the new Government is in energy policy. Prime Minister Noda spent the first half of the year trying to get to a position in which Japan could bring back a very small number of nuclear power stations on line, after all 54 had been closed in the immediate aftermath of Fukushima, or in accordance with normal testing procedures.
This has been a profoundly controversial issue. Public opinion is sharply divided. Many wanted an end to nuclear power on the grounds that Fukushima had demonstrated that it was unsafe. Others were concerned about the economic implications of a zero-nuclear policy – increasing electricity bills, reducing economic growth forecasts, the difficulty of Japan’s servicing its growing public debt at a time when the country’s trade balance is tipping into deficit as it has to import more of its energy. And also of course, the difficulty Japan will have meeting its carbon emission reduction targets without nuclear.
Nuclear accounted for around 30% of Japan’s energy needs before Fukushima and was scheduled to rise to 50% by 2030. Obviously there was no question of sticking to that trajectory. In the event, a much-delayed energy strategy was unveiled in September. The aim was to move to zero nuclear by the 2030s, with no new nuclear build (other than where there was a permit to build) and only those reactors whose safety could be guaranteed by a new regulatory agency being allowed to restart.
The strategy was effectively disowned almost as soon as it was announced, as Government Ministers made clear that Japan needed to have maximum flexibility in whatever policy it adopted. It has come as no surprise to anyone that Mr Motegi, the new Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry, has announced that the LDP Government is revisiting the previous Government’s ban on building nuclear power stations which were at the planning stage, and that the Prime Minister has also spoken of “winning the public’s understanding” for new nuclear power stations.
This is an area of great importance in UK/Japan relations. We have worked closely with the Japanese Government in the United Nations negotiations on climate change, and have always encouraged Japan to maintain a high level of ambition on reducing carbon emissions, which in large degree will depend on nuclear being part of the future energy mix. Secondly, we have close links between our nuclear industries, both on the fuel cycle – reprocessing of high-level nuclear waste – and on decommissioning, safety and regulatory issues, where the UK experience is of increasing interest to Japanese policy-makers.
Commitment to closer co-operation in these areas was an important part of the Joint Statement issued by the two Prime Ministers during Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit in April. Nuclear is an important part of the UK’s future energy strategy. Helping our friends in Japan find the answers to the questions of how nuclear can be both safe and properly managed, with effective and trustworthy governance, is at the heart of this. The UK’s Chief Nuclear Inspector Mike Weightman, who chaired the International Atomic Energy Agency panel that made the initial assessment of what went wrong at Fukushima, is playing a very important role in this dialogue.
UK/Japan Bilateral Political Relations
Talking about nuclear co-operation leads me neatly into the broader bilateral relationship. 2012 was a very full and crowded year.
We were honoured that Their Imperial Majesties the Emperor and Empress were able to visit London in May to attend Her Majesty The Queen’s lunch at Windsor Castle to celebrate Her Diamond Jubilee. His Majesty was one of only two reigning monarchs at the lunch to have attended the Coronation in June 1953, as Crown Prince, on his first overseas visit. His Majesty undertook the visit to the UK very soon after his heart operation, and it was a tribute to the closeness that exists between Britain and Japan that the visit – His Majesty’s eighth to the UK – went ahead, and that Their Majesties were able, in addition to joining the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, to meet some of those who had supported Japan during and after the earthquake and tsunami of 2011. I was very touched that one of the waka that His Majesty published at the New Year was on his visit to London and his memories of the Coronation.
At the Government to Government level, it was a busy and successful year. The Prime Minister’s visit to Japan, which we had had to postpone because of the Eurozone crisis the previous October, took place in April. The Prime Minister was accompanied by three other ministers – Jeremy Hunt, then Secretary of State for Culture, Media, Sport and the Olympics, David Willetts, Minister for Science and Higher Education, and Stephen (Lord) Green, Minister for Trade and Investment, as well as the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir John Beddington, and a high-level official and business delegation.
It was a short but crowded programme, with a visit to Nissan in Yokohama, where a new investment in the company’s Sunderland plant was announced, the launch of the Government’s GREAT campaign at the iconic Shibuya crossing in downtown Tokyo, all four massive TV screens showing our promotional UK videos, the signature of an agreement with the Japan Bank for International Co-operation, seminars on nuclear, higher education and third country project co-operation. The Prime Minister also called on His Majesty The Emperor, on His Majesty’s first day of resuming official duties after his heart surgery.
At the heart of the visit, however, were the meeting and dinner with Prime Minister Noda, and the Joint Statement that the two Prime Ministers then issued.
We often take documents like this a little for granted. There is a danger that diplomatic dialogue of this kind can be seen simply as process. But the Joint Statement reflects an extraordinarily wide range of areas where the United Kingdom and Japan think along similar lines, and where, especially in the field of international relations, our working increasingly closely together is helping, I believe, to make the world a safer and more prosperous place. Indeed, that is the sub-title of the Joint Statement: “a leading strategic partnership for global prosperity and security”.
I’ve talked about nuclear co-operation, on which there is an annex to the Statement. The other area on which closer co-operation was agreed was defence, on which Defence Ministers subsequently signed a bilateral memorandum. This includes a strategic sharing of information and assessments, which has already got under way. It also commits us to identifying equipment for joint development and production; to look for a future major programme that will also contribute to both our countries’ security and peaceful intent; and to consider joint exercises, training and unit to unit affiliations.
This is a very exciting area of potential co-operation. It builds on the Japanese Government’s relaxing defence export rules at the end of 2011 and making clear at that point that the UK was top of the list of countries, after the US, with which it wanted to co-operate more closely. It will take time for the details to be worked up, but I know that the Japanese Government are committed to making it a reality. I look forward to my successor announcing the outcomes from the programme when he addresses the Society this time next year!
In this context, I should also mention cyber policy, linked to defence but not just a security issue, where we have had a series of bilateral discussions throughout the year, led by the Cabinet Office as well as the FCO. There is very close alignment between the British and Japanese positions – specifically on the need to counter cyber attacks without introducing a regime that restricts access to, and increases control over, the internet.
This is yet another area where Britain and Japan think alike. We see this across the full range of foreign policy and global issues. Japan has been solidly behind the international community’s sanctions pressure on Iran to prevent the development of a nuclear bomb – at a time when reducing oil shipments caused real difficulty, with energy supplies under pressures in the wake of the problems with nuclear. Japan has played an important part in the international pressure on Syria, has made an important contribution to the international community’s support for Burma, with the movement towards fuller democratisation, and has been one of the countries leading the international response to developments in North Korea under Kim Jong Un, with the missile launches, in breach of United Nations Security Council resolutions, in April and December. Japan also played its part in helping to secure stability in the Eurozone through major purchases of Financial Stability Facility bonds.
Of course there are nuances of policy sometimes where we differ, but the broad lines of our approaches to these problems are extraordinarily close. That is why we remain committed to supporting Japan as a permanent member of the Security Council, although I fear that UN Security Council reform doesn’t look like being an early prospect.
I can’t leave foreign policy without mentioning the two major conferences which the Japanese hosted in the course of the year – Afghanistan in July, attended by Andrew Mitchell, then International Development Secretary, and the annual International Monetary Fund/World Bank meetings, to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Governor of the Bank of England came (as well as Justine Greening, Andrew Mitchell’s successor as Development Secretary). The Afghanistan conference focused on economic development and saw donors pledging $16 billion in civilian aid over the next four years. The UK will chair the follow-up review conference to be held in 2014.
UK/Japan: Olympics and the Jubilee
For millions in Britain and Japan, however, 2012 was the year of the Olympics and of the Diamond Jubilee. The latter made an enormous impact, not least because of The Emperor’s and Empress’s visit. In the Embassy, we took a chance on the weather and moved our Queen’s Birthday Party to just after the Jubilee weekend, inviting 800 VIPs into the Embassy, where they saw a Vivienne Westwood fashion show, an exhibition of classic cars, and heard Tomoyasu Hotei, Japan’s Mick Jagger, perform a memorable riff on his theme from “Kill Bill” – “A Battle Without Honour and Humanity”. It was, though I’ll say it myself, an example of how stylish diplomatic entertaining and the power of the Jubilee added up to a memorable evening and helped win business for British companies.
It was a wonderful curtain-raiser for the summer of the Olympics – the first London Olympics in which a Japanese team had participated. Tokyo was covered in “The Road to London” posters for months in advance. We had organised a lot of activity in the Embassy to advertise the Games over the previous three years. The emphasis was on the theme of environmental sustainability. Pamela and I went to the ceremonies to see off the Olympic and Paralympic teams, which were very moving. An Embassy team climbed Mount Fuji on the morning of the opening ceremony to unfurl an Olympic flag at the summit at daybreak!
And the nation was glued to the television throughout the tournament, in which I was delighted that Japan won 38 medals – an all-time record for the Olympics – and 16 medals in the Paralympics. All eyes are now on the selection for the 2020 Olympics later this year: the new Governor of Tokyo has been in London today to promote this. It would be a marvellous boost for Tokyo if it were victorious against Madrid and Istanbul, although I’m still required to be strictly impartial until I come off the Foreign Office’s books in three weeks’ time!
We had senior business representation from Japan at the British Business Embassy that was held during the Olympics, and Hitachi’s long-awaited investment in the Intercity Express rail Programme – £2.4 billion for the first stage of the contract to supply rolling stock on the Great Western line – was announced on the first day. Hitachi made another major investment announcement in October, with its £700 million purchase of the Horizon nuclear consortium, giving the UK a second major nuclear developer, and promising to do for the UK nuclear industry what Nissan did for the car industry in the 1980s. The trade and investment relationship between Britain and Japan remains very strong. And I was delighted that the year ended with a design by the distinguished British architect Zaha Hadid, who won the Japan Art Association’s Praemium Imperiale award in 2009, being selected for the new Japanese 80,000 seater national stadium, to be completed by 2019, and Rolls-Royce signing a $1billion contract with Skymark Airlines for Trent engines to power six A380 aircraft.
High-Level Contacts/Other Links
Government contacts were dominated by the Prime Minister’s visit. But we had a good programme of other high level contacts as well, with two visits by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, visits by Jeremy Browne, then the FCO Minister of State dealing with Asia, Ed Vaizey, Minister for Communications and the Creative Industries, Andrew Mitchell, as I’ve mentioned, the then Development Secretary – and a very wide range of senior officials from the FCO and other departments.
The Foreign Minister, Koichiro Genba, visited London in October for the first of what will be annual Strategic Dialogues on foreign policy. This was the second time that our Foreign Secretary, William Hague, had met Mr Genba, because they saw each other at the UN General Assembly in New York as well.
And the Foreign Secretary has already spoken to the new Japanese Foreign Minister, Fumio Kishida, to congratulate him on his appointment and begin the process of working together as fellow members of the G8, which the UK is chairing this year. Our (relatively) new Minister of State in the FCO, Hugo Swire, will be making his first visit to Japan next week, and Jeremy Hunt, now Secretary of State for Health, will be leading a healthcare trade and investment mission to Japan next month.
So the high level political dialogue continues to be busy. I have to say, however, great though it was to have all those VIPs visiting Japan in the course of my last year there, as well as a constant stream of stars from the world of sport and show business, the most exciting visit for me and Pamela was when de Montfort University brought the British Library edition of Shakespeare’s First Folio – the ur-First Folio – to the Embassy for three days in April (including Shakespeare’s birthday), as part of the GREAT campaign. It was the centrepiece of a number of events for Shakespearean scholars and students – including schoolchildren – as well as lovers of English literature and British culture. To be part of an event celebrating the greatest figure in world literature, in the presence of the actual book without which many of his works would never have survived – well, “memorable” doesn’t quite describe it.
Some great friends of Britain in Japan died in 2012. His Imperial Highness Prince Tomohito of Mikasa, the Honorary Patron of the Japan-British Society, died in June after many years of illness which he bore with extraordinary courage.
Two distinguished business figures, both of whom were Honorary KBEs, also died – in March, Minoru Mori, the builder and developer who played a major role in supporting the UK/Japan 2008 celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the treaty of Amity and Commerce, and in September, Shoichi Saba, former Chairman of Toshiba, who played a crucial role in the 1991 Japan Festival as co-chair of the Festival Committee with the late Sir Peter Parker.
Tadashi Yamamoto, CBE, President of the Japan Centre for International Exchange, died in April – a pioneer of non-governmental, people-to-people diplomacy and human exchange, who played an integral role as the Japanese secretary of the UK/Japan 2000 Group, (now 21st Century Group), for 25 years.
And tragically, only a few days after he had been appointed Ambassador to China in September, our dear friend Shinichi Nishimiya, whom many of us will remember, when he served in the Embassy in London, as the Chief Executive of the Japan 2001 cultural and educational celebration of Japan in the UK.
I also want to mention Colin Marshall – Lord Marshall – who died in July and who in addition to being Chairman of Nomura international for many years, was an indefatigable supporter of closer links between Japan and the UK.
This is the fifth talk that I’ve had the pleasure of giving to the Society and I ought to finish with some reflections on my four and a half years as Ambassador in Japan. Of course, they will be dominated by the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011. I spoke at length about this last year and won’t repeat myself other than to say how humbled I was by the courage and resilience that we all witnessed in the face of unimaginable suffering. Virtually everything else I did pales into insignificance by comparison.
But my time in Japan was also dominated by the world economic crisis, by political upheaval and by a prevailing depression – I can’t really think of another word – that seemed to dominate public debate and was certainly reflected at nearly all the discussions I arranged for British visitors to Japan with Japanese politicians, businessmen and commentators: “Why is Japan losing ground to China and Korea? Why cannot we get the economy moving again? Why are our political leaders so inadequate?”
Much of this despondency strikes visitors to Japan as strange, when we see a society, for all its economic problems, whose stability, innovation and efficiency many other countries, especially in Asia, would like to emulate. And even its economic problems have to be seen against a backcloth of declining population – while we remember that in GDP per capita terms, Japan remains a very rich and successful country.
All of us in the developed world are seeing the impact of globalisation, of a rapid shift of economic and political power to the faster-growing and industrialising economies of Asia, Africa and South America. All of us are living through an era of rapid change in which established social and business models are being challenged.
Japan is not unique in this respect, although the divide between the high-octane growth of the 1980s and the “lost decade” of the 1990s and beyond is probably sharper than most; and the difficulty I have often seen in Japan of managing a public debate on issues where opinion is polarised, and where consensus is difficult sets the bar for effective leadership by politicians, in my view, impossibly high.
It can be very easy for observers of Japan sometimes to become frustrated with how slow the process of necessary change can be – on issues such as deregulation, for example. But change does happen, and I believe that while it’s important for proponents of “gaiatsu” (external pressure) to maintain that pressure to push the process along, it’s also important for foreign critics to be sensitive to the tensions in Japan between the need to adapt to the wider world and the desire to protect what makes the country uniquely Japanese.
I’ve talked about the many areas where our thinking is extraordinarily close. I would like to have made more progress on other areas too. It was disappointing that the Bill to ratify the Hague Convention on Child Abduction fell foul of the winding-up of the Diet session – the problem of children taken by an estranged parent to live in another country is rapidly moving up the political agenda in many countries and I very much hope that the new Japanese Government will re-introduce the Bill at the earliest opportunity.
I’d also have liked to make more progress in the debate on the death penalty. After a year in which the death penalty was not used, there were seven executions in Japan in 2012. The difficulty that European Ambassadors have in getting the Ministry of Justice to engage in discussion on this issue has been disappointing. We will continue to try and promote a wider public debate on the use of a sanction that has now been abolished by nearly 100 countries, including all the members of the EU.
And it seems to me very sad that the profile of Japan internationally should still be so distorted by the issue of whaling. As our Fisheries Minister made clear when the fleets set sale, there is no justification for Japanese whaling, it undermines conservation efforts and we shall continue to oppose it.
But I feel, looking back on the last four and a half years, that we have, together, done a great deal to build up the relationship, as I hope my talk tonight has indicated. The fundamental point that I have always made to Ministers and officials is that we must never take that relationship for granted. We have to be as active as we can in seeking out new areas where our interests coincide or can be brought together, and devising and promoting new initiatives to cement closer links.
It may be in the area of science and innovation, where we’ve run workshops in recent years on everything from cancer trials to neuroscience.
It may be in the area of higher education, where an increasing number of Vice-Chancellors came through the Embassy over the last four years, pursuing joint research, double degrees, long-term partnerships with Japanese colleges.
It may be on the environment, where Japanese companies are keen to learn how British companies have embraced low-carbon options and helped to influence the public debate on how to tackle climate change.
It may be in the voluntary or not-for-profit sector, where the British Council has become much more involved in recent years and where there is growing interest in Japan in other countries’ experiences.
It must certainly be in the area of political and parliamentary links, and I was delighted that the 21st Century Group, which met very successfully last May in Tokyo under the co-Chairmanship of Lord Howard and Seiji Maehara, now has an increased number of Members of both Parliaments participating in its meetings.
Human exchanges are at the heart of all this and we have to do everything we can to maximise them, to get students, scholars, tourists, businessmen and women travelling between our two countries in ever greater numbers. But the relationship also needs the sustained commitment of both Governments.
I hope I have demonstrated that the British Government has given it that commitment, at every level and across a very wide range of Ministries and departments. And we have been encouraged by the response from Japan, and the strong help of our friends and colleagues in the Japanese Embassy in London, under Ambassador Hayashi.
I hope that as a new Japanese Government takes office, that that approach will continue, and that we will see the same commitment to the sort of strategic relationship between like-minded liberal democracies, committed to free trade and de-regulation, and actively playing a constructive role in the world at a time when closer international contact and effective networking will be crucial if we are going to avoid a zero-sum game of competitive nationalism.
And I do hope that this great Society, which will celebrate its 125th anniversary in three years time, can play its part in this. I’ve covered a very wide range of subjects tonight on which Britain and Japan can be, and in many cases are, allies, partners and friends. My aim as Chairman will be to do all I can to ensure that the Society helps and supports this work.