Greater Calls for Civil Diplomacy Made in Chorus at Genron NPO's 12th Anniversary

December 15, 2013

Leaders and supporters of The Genron NPO affirmed civil diplomacy's increasingly significant role in East Asia at an event celebrating its 12th anniversary Dec. 4. Approximately 200 people, including prominent political leaders, attended the party, supporting the notion that civil diplomacy can sometimes achieve more in unique ways.

Yasushi Kudo, president of The Genron NPO, announced that it had launched the Initiative for New Civil Diplomacy the same day in order to facilitate efforts at non-government sectors for settling political tensions in the East Asia region. The Genron NPO, a policymaking advisory non-profit, had successfully hosted bilateral private-sector discussions between Japan and China, and also between Japan and South Korea. It now aims to expand the dialogue channels, formats and platforms in a greater area in East Asia to effectively exercise civil diplomacy.

The new initiative is expected to open new channels for diplomatic challenges directly between non-governmental sectors of different countries. It will provide new perspectives to domestic public opinion at home and also expand the frame of diplomatic options, according to its supporters.

The most recent such dialogue endeavor took place at the 9th Tokyo-Beijing Forum in Beijing in October, jointly sponsored by The Genron NPO and China Daily, China's state-owned English-language newspaper, in the Chinese capital.

Relations between the neighboring nations have deteriorated over the past years, notably in the past year over the territorial issue of the Senkaku Islands (called the Diaoyu in China), located between China and Okinawa, the southernmost island of Japan. The Japanese government purchased three of the uninhabited islands from private owners in September 2012, which resulted in violent protests in China. It has led the two countries to the most dangerous - possibly prone to militaristic -- confrontations in postwar bilateral relations. The two nations have been also saddled with other difficult agendas over history-perception issues.

The Tokyo-Beijing Forum in October achieved amid such bilateral tensions to build a consensus of the "No War Pledge," dubbed the "Beijing Consensus." The attempt was quite a challenge for the forum organizers of both countries, according to informed sources.

Yasushi AkashiThe Northeast of Asia needs civil diplomacy more than other areas of Asia, meanwhile, urged Yasushi Akashi, the former U.N. undersecretary-general and now chairman of the International House of Japan, at the anniversary event's panel discussion.

"We do not have a regional structure in Northeast Asia, unlike the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) in Southeast Asia," he said. Northeast Asia thus needs space more badly for exchanging diverse views of the private sectors independently from government-to-government diplomacy. Akashi also serves as a member of The Genron NPO's Advisory Board.

The forum organizers "miraculously" crafted the path to the Beijing Consensus, he said. He was thus assured that "not only Japan but also China now has space for civil diplomacy to function."

Yuji MiyamotoYuji Miyamoto, a former Japanese ambassador to China, meanwhile, pointed to a distinctive merit of civil diplomacy. He was the engine in accomplishing the "No War Pledge" at the recent dialogue forum in Beijing.

The consensus cannot be formal in government-to-government diplomacy unless both sides reach a full and thorough agreement, he said. But, in civil diplomacy, a consensus can be produced more flexibly when the parties agree on a broad theme.

Fumio KishidaAmong the distinguished guests attending the anniversary event were top government leaders, including Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida. He noted the accumulated endeavors - and achievements -- of the think tank since its inception in 2001, notably the dialogues between Japan and China, have demonstrated its leadership in the civil diplomacy platform as well as its powerful influence.

"Although Japan's diplomatic relations with South Korea and China have been filled with a sense of extreme tension, the government intends to improve the relations with the help of private think tanks or civil diplomacy such as The Genron NPO," he said.

Shigeru IshibaShigeru Ishiba, secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), also said that only "dialogues based on robust speech" would provide a clue for improving the relations. It is important to have such dialogue opportunities not only once or twice but repeatedly so that they can make a step-by-step move forward, he added.

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