'Genron Diplomacy' paves the way
for regional peace and order

August 31, 2015

On Aug. 19, The Genron NPO President Yasushi Kudo met Ken Jimbo, an associate professor at Keio University's Faculty of Policy Management, to exchange views on the current status and future potential of "Genron Diplomacy," a new form of civil or non-governmental diplomacy based on sound and responsible public opinion, which was advocated and initiated by The Genron NPO some 10 years ago. Excerpts of the discussion follow.

Now is the time for 'Genron diplomacy'

Kudo: Though diplomacy was originally conducted on a government-to-government level, the importance of citizen-level, or non-governmental diplomacy is mounting today.

Jimbo: Historically speaking, diplomacy was defined as a "way of controlling an international relationship" through negotiations by professional diplomats and politicians. Today, however, democracy has grown to the extent of giving unprecedented power to citizens. Under such conditions, diplomacy is no longer limited to professionals. Moreover, the results of such negotiations have come to be short-lived, if not widely accepted by ordinary people. That being said, diplomacy requires professionalism, and the way it functions is often difficult to understand for the general public. That is why public opinion tends to be skewed toward each person's feelings as to whether it would provide an immediate personal profit. On a national level, however, a repetitive, long-term perspective becomes necessary since diplomacy involves a counterpart nation. What then links this short-term thinking with the pursuit of a long-term, nation-level benefit? The answer lies in "genron" ("genron" refers to all forms of activities that express one's ideas or thoughts in public to create public opinion on important issues - Editor) and intellectual leadership. Between the two, "Genron Diplomacy" is of paramount importance in today's world because it can become a means to quickly tackle various issues and guide citizens in a better direction.

Dilemma of government-to-government diplomacy

Kudo: Having held non-governmental talks with China and South Korea over the past decade, I have experienced moments when negotiations were cancelled and diplomacy halted due to worsening government relationships. If that happens, confrontations between the two countries tend to be exacerbated by media reports, thus further incensing the conflicting emotions of people on both sides. Such a vicious cycle does not contribute to diplomacy, whether on a government or private level. In such difficult conditions, public opinion plays a vital role. Healthy public opinion seeks solutions that exceed emotional criticism. And in order to generate such positive opinion, individuals of various status, including intellectuals, should try to solve opposing issues without becoming emotional. Such momentum in turn contributes to create an environment for fruitful government-to-government diplomacy. We, at The Genron NPO, define such a role, area and action of citizens as "Genron Diplomacy."

Jimbo: I think that is a very positive and important way of thinking, and would say that there are two directions in such "Genron Diplomacy." One is when public opinion is stifled and feelings have deteriorated to the extent of rejecting any relations with the counterpart nation. In such a situation, "Genron Diplomacy" can enlighten and persuade citizens to take better actions. Second is to use "Genron Diplomacy" as a tool for encouraging the private sector to take the lead over the troubled official actions of the involved nations. Japan has actually done so in the past when its government relations with China were going nowhere. "Genron Diplomacy" has massive growth potential for flexibly combining these two directions.

Ideal form of regional peace and order

Kudo: The role of the private sector is to tackle and overcome confrontational issues while preparing the ground for smooth diplomatic talks between the involved nations. According to such thinking, The Genron NPO has continued its private-level talks with China over the past decade. In fact, it didn't stop communicating even when government-level talks between Japan and China stalled as a result of the Senkaku issue. When we declared our "No-War Pledge" three years ago in Beijing, we acknowledged that "no war" is not mere lip-service official jargon, but is the distinctive desire and determination of the citizens. When such private-level thoughts are conveyed to the counterpart nation, they can transcend national borders and unify the hearts of everybody. If that happens, indispensable bases in government-level diplomacy can be established, including the creation of a crisis-control mechanism and a future peace framework. Such private-level action becomes especially important for maintaining peace in Northeast Asia.

Jimbo: Citizens' support in national diplomacy serves as the foundation for government support. Since diplomatic activity involves a counterpart nation, much guesswork is required to fill the gaps caused by the lack of information provided by the counterpart. But even if a nation-level handshake is achieved as a result of successful assumptions, it would become meaningless unless approved by the citizens. Moreover, the promise of a nation could be broken should a hard-liner come to power. But if the citizens' voice is strong and has a solid direction, the meaning of a diplomatic handshake cannot be neglected or forgotten. In that context, "Genron Diplomacy" is a very big asset that enhances the power of government-level diplomacy. Concurrently, it reflects the citizens' current and future thoughts about their country's voice and actions.

Kudo: The meaning of the diplomacy you just mentioned can also be applied to Japan's internal issues. This is because the citizens are actually thinking about the country's future when they tackle issues that transcend national borders. Citizens' interest in various political themes leads to the expansion of "genron," which in turn reinforces democracy. Furthermore, such a problem-solving stance and perspective can be applied to creating peace and order in Asia, and the world. If that can be done, Japan's voice would be listened to more intently by other countries. That is the very cycle I want to create.

Jimbo: In a democratic nation, politicians are chosen by the citizens, and the former bear the responsibility to pursue and maintain the well-being of the latter. Even in authoritarian states, the power of citizens is recently mounting to a level that cannot be ignored. Hence in most cases, about 50 percent of an external diplomatic declaration becomes an internal message geared toward the citizens. Today, many citizens, including business people and students, share benefits that exceed national borders, as a result of conducting trade, becoming friends with each other, marrying internationally, and so on. Through "Genron Diplomacy," the voices of such people could be used to create an ideal form of regional order that surpasses the national system. Such a movement is sure to improve so many aspects of our world.

Cultivating the future direction of Asia

Kudo: Upon organizing the 11th Tokyo-Beijing Forum in Beijing this October, we plan to hold private-level discussions on "Asia's future and its peaceful order: The next challenge of Genron Diplomacy." Without relying entirely on the government, we have started consolidating an environment that allows numerous people to take part in public debate on important policy matters. I want to utilize such "Genron Diplomacy" to enhance a peaceful order in the Asian region.

Jimbo: "Genron" is a massive asset and tool that guides and fashions the era in which we live. Since human beings live by talking, we must always pay close attention to how words are shaped and pronounced, and what kind of society is formed based on the spoken words. The second point is that a verbal message must be repeated time and again. As compared to an online message, a face-to-face promise to maintain a good human relationship weighs much more heavily and lays greater responsibility on the involved parties. The Genron NPO is working to build such weight and responsibility through its activities. Its mission, I believe, is to create a new community by holding various forums with different countries.

Kudo: We seek to nurture an all-Asia "Genron Diplomacy," a private-level platform where many Asian people can seriously discuss various issues, including the future of Asia. As a preliminary step, we started our talks between Japan and China, as well as Japan and South Korea. In recognition of the power and influence of China, the next step would be to reveal and discuss each other's future blueprints on other Asian countries, and the entire Asian region. (END)

Post a comment