Experts Urged to Offer Various Views to Public for Better Government Diplomacy

April 08, 2014

Video: Japanese Only

Makoto KawashimaMakoto Kawashima, Associate Professor, Department of Advanced Social and International Studies, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Tokyo

Yuji MiyamotoYuji Miyamoto, Chairman of Miyamoto Institute of Asian Research, Former Ambassador to China

Hitoshi TanakaHitoshi Tanaka, Chairman of the Institute for International Strategy, the Japan Research Institute

Yasushi KudoYasushi Kudo, President of The Genron NPO

Experts should provide various views and options to people as governmental diplomacy has become more influenced than ever by public opinion, according to noted Japanese foreign policy researchers.

Government officials are having difficulty executing their diplomatic policy without public support while emotional factors, such as populism and nationalism, emerge from time to time, making it even harder to solve diplomatic issues in East Asia, according to Yuji Miyamoto, a former Japanese ambassador to China.

Hitoshi Tanaka, chairman of the Institute for International Strategy, the Japan Research Institute, said that the private sector's role is becoming larger than ever for creating an environment for peace in the region. Experts should strive to build a healthy civil-sector base so that "rational diplomacy," which is invulnerable to excessive nationalist opinions, can be performed, he said.

The biggest role for the proposed civil-sector diplomacy is to deepen understanding of the diplomatic challenges among the people of each country, and experts should speak actively at home to strengthen the private sector and enable it to make recommendations to people about specific issues, Tanaka said.

The civil sector's role should be carefully considered, said University of Tokyo associate professor Makoto Kawashima, because public opinion runs out of control sometimes in certain situations. "It is important to think how to create healthy, composed public opinion," he said. Kawashima, also a senior researcher at the Institute for International Policy Studies, said that public opinion may have plural views because Japan is a democracy. People should have and express various views, and this will help to improve government diplomacy, he said.

Miyamoto, Tanaka and Kawashima were speaking at a Genron NPO-organized discussion on what can be done by the civil sector to resolve diplomatic problems in East Asia. President Yasushi Kudo served as moderator.

Japan had few alternatives in its foreign policy in the years after the end of the last war, when the pro-Washington Liberal Democratic Party dominated the country's political landscape, Tanaka said. But the Cold War ended as did the unipolar global system built around the United States, and as a result, Japan has numerous foreign policy options, he noted.

There are various views about which area should be a priority in Japan's China policy, Tanaka said, noting that today's situation is quite different from past decades, when Japan worked together with the United States to contain Communist China and later, Japan supplied official development assistance to China while being on good terms with Beijing, he said. 

Various diplomatic alternatives have become available for Japan, but the alternatives have not been fully discussed at home, Tanaka also said. At present, conservative and nationalistic views are often aired under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's diplomatic policy, and Japan-China relations are very strained, he said. But there is no public opinion-based discussion at all about whether the situation can be allowed to be left unattended, he said.

In order for Japan to implement its foreign policy in a proper manner, private-sector discussions must be continued so that appropriate alternatives may be open to the country, Tanaka said.

Ordinary people while being influenced by the media form their views based on their feelings and beliefs, while experts should have their own knowledge and information, and based on their thinking, suggest what is possible and what is important to people, Tanaka said.

When Kudo asked the three speakers to comment on public diplomacy, usually taken to mean the government's publicity efforts aimed at public opinion in the target country, Miyamoto, chairman of the Miyamoto Institute of Asian Research, said that the notion reflects the belief that government diplomacy will no longer be effective in today's situation without having the policy aims understood by the general public. Classic diplomacy could be performed only if there was understanding among the people involved, but the more democratic a country is, the more frequently many players will be involved in the process to find a solution, he said.

Tanaka noted that the term indicates that the country's various views should be conveyed correctly to other countries through people-to-people contacts, not with government wording or methods.

This effort cannot be well done by the government and it should rather work as a "facilitator," and provide an opportunity for intellectuals and academics to have discussions with their counterparts in the countries involved, Tanaka said.

The government, of course, can say, "This is Japan's position," but the public diplomacy for conveying Japan's view to people in other countries should be made always while understanding their situation well, Kawashima said. The private sector's role will be important in supplementing the government's efforts to find a way out of the situation, he said. Specifically, efforts should be made to activate and link public opinion in Japan and in the counterpart country, he said.

Public diplomacy represents a public opinion-to-public opinion diplomacy, Miyamoto said. The possibility of finding a solution will be improved through dialogue, and interchanges between Japan and the counterpart country, he said.

Excerpts of other remarks by the three speakers are as follows:

Kawashima: Today, people tend to choose to listen to topics that are easier to understand, but experts' remarks are rather difficult for them to digest, and as a result, experts' positions are rapidly declining. Wide-ranging alternatives are available to people in Japan and various simulations have become possible. This will make it even more difficult for people to understand experts' remarks.

Another problem is that experts themselves are usually less enthusiastic about having a dialogue with society, and therefore, the Genron NPO activities are important, in that they can help draw out experts' knowledge for society.

Tanaka: Japan has been at odds with its Asian neighbors over territorial disputes, but these issues cannot be handled by the civil sector. The civil sector should focus on finding different factors that can "counterbalance" the unfavorable situation in the region. Civil-sector efforts should be made to "draw a grand picture" and propose introducing a new, different agenda, thereby enabling Japan and China to explore "win-win" relations. This may be a means of embodying the idea of the "no-war pledge" (or the Beijing Consensus), adopted at the end of last year's Tokyo-Beijing Forum meeting organized by The Genron NPO and its Chinese counterpart.

Kawashima: When civil-sector diplomacy is activated, people will become aware that the so-called "national interests" involve many factors that need to be addressed. Territories must be protected properly, but many other things, including how to increase people's wealth and enrich their life, and how to secure stable energy supplies, should also be considered.

Miyamoto: Japan's society tends to be nearsighted, always focusing on specifics and details. Japan's past decisions on occasion have not been necessarily wrong, but the country should look at the situation from a broader point of view, when necessary. An unconventional decision then may prove to be correct for Japan.

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