Making 2016 a year for the Japanese
to seriously contemplate the global agenda

February 10, 2016

Akihiko Tanaka
Professor of International Politics at the Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia, University of Tokyo

I believe there is a possibility that this year will see the emergence of extremely difficult global problems. Earlier this year, North Korea claimed it had tested a hydrogen bomb and the United States is facing an election year. The focus will be on whether and how much countries like China and Russia contribute to maintaining a constructive global order. One cannot deny the possibility of these countries taking geopolitical military action, as seen in the situation in the South China Sea and in Ukraine. Meanwhile in the Middle East, the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran is worsening in the midst of the Islamic State crisis.

Amid all these problems, this year will be particularly important for Japan, especially in terms of diplomacy. Japan is a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and will assume the chairmanship of the council as well as serve as the host country for the Group of Seven 2016 Summit this summer. Under such circumstances, Japan needs to play an active role not only in global issues like conflicts and peace-building but also socioeconomic and management issues. Japan's diplomatic ability will be put to test in this difficult year.

The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faces an Upper House election in July and the government will want to take assertive measures during the scheduled flurry of action on the diplomatic front before heading into the election. The problems facing Japan are not necessarily major global issues and foreign diplomacy is unlikely to have a major impact on the outcome of the election. The agreement between Japan and South Korea regarding the "comfort women" issue reached last December will also be a positive factor for the Abe administration.

The six years before the Abe administration came to power were a time of domestic political stagnation. The Japanese people were too consumed by domestic issues to give much thought to global issues. While there are numerous economic issues that need to be resolved, Japan enjoys a relatively stable government and has managed to build a relatively healthy relationship with its neighbors. And Japan is still the third-largest economy in the world. The Japanese people need to start thinking seriously about what Japan can do in the region and the world, despite the domestic issues it faces.

⇒ Yasushi Akashi
Chairman, International House of Japan, former United Nations Undersecretary-General

⇒ Yasuchika Hasegawa
Chairman of the Board, Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Ltd.

⇒ Hiroya Masuda
Advisor, Nomura Research Institute, former Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications

⇒ Yuji Miyamoto
Chairman, Miyamoto Institute of Asian Research, former Ambassador to the People's Republic of China

⇒ Akihiko Tanaka
Professor of International Politics at the Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia, University of Tokyo

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