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Monday 17 May 2021

Japan Society Chairman's Blog (40)

Japan Society Chairman's Blog (40)

Dear Japan Society members and friends

Britain and America, quipped the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, are two nations divided by a common language. Or at least I think Shaw said this, but one modern consequence of Google is that when I used it to check the quote, it told me that there is no clear attribution, and that it might have been said by Oscar Wilde or someone else entirely. Our common set of believed quotations has been cast into doubt by an algorithm. Nevertheless, this excellent quip came to mind when seeing the news of President Joe Biden’s nomination of Rahm Emanuel as America’s next ambassador to Japan. Britain and America have long seen each other as fellow bastions of democracy—challenging though that idea has been, of late—and yet this nomination reminded me that our democratic systems are so different. 
Britain, like Japan, has flirted occasionally with appointing non-diplomats like Mr Emanuel to important ambassadorships but has then quickly reverted to sending in seasoned, and always in the case of Japan, specialist diplomats. I am not sure, but the most recent US ambassador to Tokyo to have been fluent in Japanese may have been the great historian Edwin Reischauer, from 1961-1966, a man famous for correcting Japanese interpreters’ translations during visits by US cabinet-members. Yet, as this article in Nikkei Asia explained, what is critically different in America’s case is the importance of channels of communication both to the White House and to Congress. Hence, although Mr Emanuel is said to know nothing about Japan, as a former Congressman, former chief of staff to President Barack Obama, and former mayor of Chicago, he knows a great deal about the US political system. 
In that respect, his nomination is an interesting and, to Japan I imagine welcome, reversion to what in US terms used to be the norm for Japan, ie not to appoint a political donor or ally as has been common for US ambassadors to London or Paris, but rather a seasoned politician, such as Mike Mansfield (1978-1988), Walter Mondale (1993-1996), Tom Foley (1997-2001) or Howard Baker (2001-2005). It is the deputy chiefs of mission (such as Jim Zumwalt, who spoke at our recent webinar on US-Japan relations) who are the Japan specialists. Those career diplomats may well have had a more uphill task in Tokyo during the past four rather more party-political incumbents (Tom Schieffer, John Roos, Caroline Kennedy and Bill Hegarty). It will be interesting to see what impact Mr Emanuel’s appointment will have, assuming he is confirmed by the Senate: eventually, probably after next year’s mid-term congressional elections, US participation in the Comprehensive Trans-Pacific Partnership trade and investment agreement, originally negotiated by the Obama administration but then rebuffed by Donald Trump and Congress, might come back into consideration – by which time Britain certainly hopes to be a member of the CPTPP.
Given the amount of time confirmation hearings take in the US Senate, it must be doubted whether Mr Emanuel will arrive in Tokyo in time for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games on 23 July (assuming, fingers crossed, that it goes ahead). But he, along with President Biden’s special envoy John Kerry, will likely play an important role in talks with both Japan and Britain ahead of the COP26 UN climate conference that the UK will be hosting in Glasgow in November. That event, and the decarbonisation goals for 2030 being pledged for COP26, will provide the framework for our next webinar, on green finance, on Wednesday 19 May at 1.00pm (BST). Sir Roger Gifford, chair of the UK’s Green Finance Institute as well as a senior banker at SEB, and Mari Yoshitaka, Principal Sustainability Strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Research & Consulting in Tokyo, will discuss progress in London and Tokyo in environmental finance to support the investments needed to meet those goals, as well as what more needs to be done.
Last week’s discussion, on regenerative medicine in the UK and Japan, was quite an eye-opener for me, a non-scientist, about work that is increasingly important in our ageing societies and for which an encouraging amount of UK-Japan collaboration takes place. If you missed it, I thoroughly recommend watching the video, especially of the presentation given by our speakers from Oxford (Professors Paul Riley and Georg Holländer) and from the National Institute of Neuroscience in Tokyo (Professor Shin’ichi Takeda), which can be found here.
Coming up there is also the intriguing-sounding presentation on 17 May at 6.45pm (BST) by Sonia Favi from the John Rylands Research Institute at the University of Manchester about the wonderful Japanese maps collection there and their work on digitalising the maps, setting up a new Japanese Maps Portal. There’s still (just) time to register.
I cannot resist finishing with another quotation from George Bernard Shaw, which perhaps tells you what an Irishman thought of the English. In his 1897 play The Man of Destiny, which was actually about Napoleon Bonaparte, who died 200 years ago this year, Shaw wrote that “you will never find an Englishman in the wrong. He does everything on principle. He fights you on patriotic principles; he robs you on business principles; he enslaves you on imperial principles.” 
And that quotation must be correct, for it is in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, whose veracity I believe in, on principle.

* Image © Jessica Johnston

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