Webinar Video + Report - The UK-Japan Relationship: a Conversation with Ambassador Hayashi
In the latest edition of the Japan Society online webinar series, on Wednesday 17 November 2021, we received Hayashi Hajime, the current Japanese Ambassador to the UK, to discuss a range of topics such as the Covid-19 pandemic, relations between Japan and the United Kingdom, and Japan’s defence policy.
In his opening remarks, Ambassador Hayashi shared his reflections on the pandemic, climate change, and bilateral relations between Japan and the UK. He highlighted the role that international cooperation has in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, stating that “without [international cooperation] we cannot rectify the quite many areas of damages and losses caused by this pandemic”. He also singled out the presence and work of Japan and the UK within COVAX, the international body set up to facilitate vaccination in developing countries, emphasising how cooperation between like-minded partners can make a significant impact here.
Ambassador Hayashi also commended the UK’s leadership and efforts in Glasgow during the COP-26 summit. He mentioned his personal involvement in the Japanese response to COP-26, including the visit of prime minister Kishida, just after the vote in the House of Representatives in the Japanese Parliament – a demonstration of Japan’s commitment to tackle climate change. Among Japan’s pledges, Ambassador Hayashi specified the 70 billion USD Japan will provide to assist in climate change efforts.
Focusing on the bilateral relations between the UK and Japan, Ambassador Hayashi underlined the importance of trade and economy, with around 1000 Japanese companies actively operating in the UK market; providing an estimated 180,000 jobs. While Brexit could have had a serious impact on the business relations between both countries, there seems to have been no significant exit of Japanese companies from the UK. Additionally, Ambassador Hayashi expressed his satisfaction about the new trade agreement between both countries, the UK–Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, which may help provide stability to businesses in both nations. He also pointed out the fundamental values shared by both Japan and the UK, such as their views on human rights and international law, as well as the cultural, scientific, and educational cooperation between them.
In the Q&A session moderated by Japan Society Chairman Bill Emmott, Ambassador Hayashi commented on Japan’s defence policy. He stated that Japan welcomes the AUKUS initiative, as it “could provide more stability in the area of Asia, or the Indo-Pacific”, and stressed the good bilateral relations between Japan and the AUKUS members: Australia, United Kingdom and United States. He also expressed his concern about regimes who try to challenge the status quo by showing their willingness to utilize force.
Another question from the audience directed attention to the current status of the Imperial family, enquiring about any changes to allow women to ascend to the throne. Ambassador Hayashi responded that it “is a quite difficult and sensitive matter” and that an independent panel is looking at this issue. He confirmed that the position of the Japanese government is to wait for the outcome of this independent panel, and that national consensus is also an important factor to keep in mind.
Finally, regarding upcoming developments between UK-Japan relations in 2022, Ambassador Hayashi considered that it is important to assess the consequences of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. He hopes there will be a return to pre-pandemic activities as early as possible.
Report by Gonçalo Navega