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Monday 3 April 2023

Japan Society Chairman's Blog (54)

Japan Society Chairman's Blog (54)

Dear Japan Society members and friends

It is possible I had not been paying sufficient attention before last Monday’s excellent and very well-attended annual lecture by the UK’s ambassador to Japan, Julia Longbottom, kindly hosted by our friends at Nomura. But even to a news junkie like me it has been striking how many points and themes that were raised in that lecture and the ensuing discussion have popped up in the news in subsequent days. There was plenty of talk, for example, of the need to revive the exchange of scholars and students between the UK and Japan, and a couple of days later the Japanese government produced an ambitious plan to do just that, aiming to attract 400,000 foreign students to Japan annually and send 500,000 Japanese students abroad. The former would represent roughly a 30% increase on 2019 numbers, while the latter looks like almost a fivefold increase on pre-covid numbers, depending on whether the plan focuses on long-term overseas study or short-term trips. The issue of economic security and US-China tensions over technology also came up, and then the news came at the end of the week: Japan confirmed that it was joining the United States and the Netherlands in restricting exports of chip-making equipment.And, last but far from least, Ambassador Longbottom had said in her talk that British membership in the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) would come “within days” and indeed four days after her lecture it duly did.

There is plenty of room for debate about all of these developments – whether Japan will really do enough to boost student exchanges that much, whether the benefit of the export restrictions on national security in the long term will outweigh the friction they create in relations with China, and what the benefits to Britain and to the existing member countries of our joining the CPTPP will actually be – but that will give us plenty to discuss and explore at next year’s annual lecture and at many events and webinars in between. (In case of interest, my take on Britain’s joining of the CPTPP can be found here.)

For starters, our next webinar is our quarterly Japan Macro Salon with Jesper Koll at 12.00pm BST this Thursday 6 April. As always, we will discuss current economic news from and affecting Japan, including wage growth, inflation, international banking instability and, of course, the entering into office this week of a new governor of the Bank of Japan, Kazuo Ueda. But we will also look at CPTPP as well, most critically, of the impact now and in the future of those export restrictions. This will lead nicely into our conversation with our special guest, Nobukatsu Kanehara, who is now a professor at Doshisha University but was previously deputy secretary general at the National Security Secretariat. Some may recall Kanehara-san’s appearance on our webinar in November 2020 along with former MI6 chief Sir John Scarlett. This time, with Japan’s new National Security Strategy published last December and plans now laid out for a big increase in defence spending, we will explore with him where that spending is going to go and what impact it might have on the economy and on industrial development. No doubt another topic that came up in Ambassador Longbottom’s lecture, the pioneering joint fighter project between Japan, the UK and Italy, will also be covered in our discussion with Kanehara-san.

Another event at which this and other themes are likely to be explored is the Japan-UK Symposium celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Iwakura Mission, to be held at Japan House in Kensington High Street on Monday 24 April. Organised by the Institute of Directors, this will honour the memory of that epic mission to the US, UK and other European countries in 1872-73 by exploring what the UK and Japan might learn from each other today and, more particularly, how businesses from the two countries might usefully and profitably co-operate with one another.

The Japan Society, I am glad to say, is as active as ever, including with its conversation group, book club, film club and bilingual public speaking club. Some members who were able to attend the annual lecture will, I hope, have had the chance to meet Michael Rivera King, who we had announced that very day will soon become our new chief executive, succeeding Heidi Potter on 19 June. The board is very happy that after her 15 years at the helm Heidi will stay on in a part-time capacity. The preparation for the handover to Mike has already begun, with regular meetings between him and Heidi. This is all made easier by the fact that since 2017 Mike has been running the UK branch of the Ashinaga charity, from offices next door to the Japan Society’s at 13/14 Cornwall Terrace, so he is well known to Heidi and the rest of the staff. As a board, we are all very much looking forward to working with both Mike and Heidi to ensure that the Japan Society thrives in coming years, bringing together our members, supporters and friends to ensure, as we have since 1891, to strengthen and deepen the UK-Japan relationship.


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