International Symposium: Discussions Suggest Increasing Role for Civil Diplomacy in Resolving Conflict in East Asia

April 01, 2014

Panel Discussion I: "How the World Is Observing Confrontations in East Asia"

Panel Discussion IFollowing the keynote debate, the symposium moved to Panel Discussion I, "How the World Is Observing Confrontations in East Asia," moderated by former Japanese Ambassador to China Yuji Miyamoto.

At the outset of the discussion, Yasushi Kudo, President of The Genron NPO, briefly explained the results of a survey on the recognition of the possibility of military conflict in East Asia, covering sample intellectuals in Japan, South Korea and China.

According to the findings of the questionnaire, 58.9 percent of the Japanese respondents expressed concerns about the occurrence of military clashes in East Asia, especially in the East China Sea. The same apprehension was shared by 43.0 percent of the Chinese respondents while the corresponding figure for the South Korean intellectuals was only 29.0 percent.

The survey, conducted between March 19 and 25, also found that as many as 85.2 percent of the Japanese respondents replied in the negative about the effectiveness of government-to-government diplomacy in preventing conflicts in the East China Sea. The corresponding figure was 59.2 percent for the Chinese and 67.7 percent for the South Korean respondents. (See detailed survey results)

Alexander NeillAlexander Neill, a Shangri-La Dialogue Senior Fellow for Asia-Pacific Security, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), Britain, was the first foreign panelist to speak, and he began by recognizing that the potential for military conflict in the region is rising. He pointed to the constant, drastic change of the strategic environment in Asia as one cause, as neither Japan nor China has laid out security strategies, and the U.S. has recently stated that it will rebalance its strategic commitment to the East Asia-Pacific region.

He suggested that one way to find a breakthrough would be to address the inadequate communications between China and Japan. In addition, he noted that the complex internal hierarchy of the Chinese Communist Party leads to the necessity of building new channels for communication at the public level.

Scott SnyderScott Snyder, a Senior Fellow for Korea Studies and Director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the United States, described that the world is anxious about the tension in Northeast Asia and people see the region as being high risk. At the same time, Snyder stated that the real issue lies in the fact that even though that risk exists, there is no framework for dialogue, no communication channels dedicated to crisis management and no rules laid out for such dialogue. Therefore, because intergovernment dialogue is ineffective, he stressed the necessity for rebuilding the relationship between the countries with a new, broader communication hierarchy that would include discussions between private citizens and other channels.

He explained that public diplomacy shouldn't have to follow the same path as governmental diplomacy. Instead, public diplomacy should be used to point governmental diplomacy in the correct direction through the influence of public opinion.

Mushahid AliThe Southeast Asian perspective was presented by Mushahid Ali, a Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (SRIS) of Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, who pointed out that conflict between the world's second- and third-biggest economies has an enormous influence across Southeast Asia as well. He said that there are many areas in which Japan and China should be able to cooperate, and that there is no reason to escalate the situation further.

Ali believes one of the roles of private diplomacy in situations such as the one facing the nations of East Asia is to promote informed public opinion, which can build a foundation for successful problem resolution.

Zhao QizhengZhao Qizheng, Dean of the School of Journalism and Communication at Renmin University of China, and former Minister of the State Council Information Office, China, reminded the gathered speakers that if one looks back on the mutual history of China and Japan, one sees that the eras of friendship overwhelmingly outweigh the periods of conflict. He described China and Japan as "great countries with remarkable traditional cultures," and stressed that there is no reason for the tension over such small, uninhabited islands. Zhao believes that China and Japan should value their friendship over anything else, and that they should try to come together to think about solutions. He emphasized that public diplomacy serves as an excellent source of ideas because of the great variety of channels for communication. Finally, Zhao warned that if public diplomacy were ever to fail, that would be the point when real conflict would arise.

Lee Sook-jongLee Sook-jong, President of the East Asia Institute, South Korea, stated that she finds it impossible not to be pessimistic about governmental diplomatic efforts and that one reason for his pessimism is that there is no platform for discussion between Japan, China and South Korea. Without a platform, there is no mutual way for each to come to an understanding with the others regarding the intentions behind each nation's policies. This is why Lee believes that it is necessary to first build a platform for intergovernmental diplomacy.

She added that when hope is lost in governmental diplomatic efforts, it will be time to expand the role of private-sector diplomacy. However, she also pointed out that the society in each country is quite nationalistic and extremist opinions spread by the media are pervasive. As long as this situation remains, Lee said, constructive private-sector diplomacy will be difficult to achieve. She explained that if public opinion can be used to neutralize the more extreme sentiments amplified by the media, it would help to move private-sector diplomacy forward, and by extension, would ensure greater stability in governmental diplomacy.

As moderator, Miyamoto made a statement to close the first panel discussion of the day.

"One of the strengths of nongovernmental diplomacy is the ease with which consensus can be found," Miyamoto said, "Tensions are rising in East Asia and because of this we need to build a better format for civil diplomacy as quickly as possible. In the future, we need to hold even deeper discussions in order to ensure that the concept of civil diplomacy continues to mature."

Panel Discussion II:
"Public Diplomacy and 'Genron Diplomacy' "

Panel Discussion IIThe theme of Panel Discussion II was "Public Diplomacy and 'Genron Diplomacy,' " and was moderated by Kazuo Ogoura, advisor to the Japan Foundation and former ambassador to South Korea. To open the discussion, Ogoura presented a number of potential talking points that followed up on the issues addressed during Panel Discussion I. He asked the panelists to think about whether discussion can prevent problems from arising and whether people should look to nongovernmental diplomacy as a means of finding solutions.

The discussion points also included:
1) Who assumes responsibility for private-sector diplomacy?
2) Nongovernmental diplomacy is even more important now that tensions continue to rise in Northeast Asia.
3) In China, the role of the nongovernmental sector is to find common ground, not to look at the obvious differences.
4) Is the current Ukraine issue a result of poor communications between the U.S. and Russia?

Lee from South Korea first stated her understanding of the term "public diplomacy."

She described public diplomacy as a supplement to governmental diplomacy. It enables the dissemination of information about one's country to people who live in other countries, and thereby has an influence on foreign opinion, which is why many countries make use of it. She continued by warning that communication with other countries must not be unilaterally imposed; it must be reciprocal. She stated that public relations can be defined differently from public diplomacy and that domestic government propaganda is a form of public relations. Lee also stated her belief that in China, public relations is included in the definition of public diplomacy.

Lee disagreed that the definition of public diplomacy is complicated and stated that it can be simply defined as those actions taken by individual members of the public. She believes it can provide results equivalent to those seen in government-led public diplomacy as it is a form of "people-to-people diplomacy" and serves as a more effective way of dealing with cultural issues. Lee added that the only source for information about other countries for the general populace is the media, which presents that information from a nationalistic perspective. In addition, the Internet creates a forum for even more radical opinions and cannot be used for mutual benefit. Because of this, Lee stated that it is important to enhance the relationship between the citizens of the two nations in question. She pointed out that the Japan-South Korea diplomatic relationship is at a historic low, so it is absolutely essential to continue public dialogue in order to foster a deeper sense of mutual trust between the peoples of both countries.

To do this, Lee emphasized that private-sector diplomacy, if any, must be conducted independently from national governments as a means of listening to what each other has to say, free from stereotypes. Dialogue must transcend narrow perspectives regarding national gain and should seek to unearth as many commonalities as possible, she said, adding that dialogue like this will be beneficial not only to each country, but to the region as a whole.

Zhao from China recalled that people's diplomacy sometimes supplemented China's foreign policy in the early years from the inception of the People's Republic of China in 1949 because it was then in a complex international situation. Later, the notion of non-governmental diplomacy emerged in China, and this helped to increase interchanges in cultural and other fields with foreign countries, he said.

Noting the Genron, or debate-oriented, diplomacy in the private sector is a developed form of nongovernmental diplomacy, Zhao said that public opinion should be activated to pressure governments to better implement policies.

Government-to-government relations are based on people-to-people relations, Zhao said. Then, he expressed his hope that favorable communication networks and human relations will be built between Japan, China and South Korea.

Seiichi KondoSeiichi Kondo, former commissioner of Japan's Agency for Cultural Affairs, acknowledged that diplomacy by the private sector will be necessary as a supplement to, not a replacement for, governmental diplomacy from now on. But he warned that excessive expectations should not be pinned on the role of the private sector. There are roles that have to be played by the government while the people have various interests that are always divided into pros and cons, Kondo said. "Diplomacy by the government should not be slighted," he said.

When it is impossible to hold high-level dialogue between countries, private-sector dialogue should be activated so that a favorable political environment may be created to enable government diplomats to find common ground, Kondo said.

Private-sector diplomacy can display its potential only when the private sector and the people become aware of their public nature, Kondo said, adding it is necessary to foster a civic society in which private-sector diplomacy can be executed in a mature manner.

OgouraWhen Ogoura, the moderator at the second session, asked Kudo to expand on the debate-oriented diplomacy as a new concept for nongovernmental diplomacy, the Genron NPO president said that more efforts must be made to build public opinion with an independent will to resolve problems. "This is a process for democracy itself," he said.
Unless the voters have the will to grapple with the challenges facing their society as stakeholders, they will not be able to truly show their strength toward mutually striving to solve diplomatic challenges, Kudo said.

Panel Discussion III
"'No-War Pledge' and the Creation of a New Order in East Asia"

Panel Discussion IIIAt Panel Discussion III, Neill from Britain gave high marks to the "no-war pledge" (or the Beijing Consensus), adopted at the end of the ninth Tokyo-Beijing Forum meeting organized by Kudo's Genron NPO and its Chinese partner China Daily in Beijing in October 2013, and at the same time, he stressed the need to spread the idea of the agreement as words of hatred are prevalent in East Asia.

As a specific means to this end, Neill proposed actively using social media tools. The worst sentiments the peoples of East Asian countries have toward each other's country reflect a lack of direct mutual communication channels, he noted.

If mutual relations of trust are established between the societies of Japan and China through online communications, a foundation will be built between the two countries to share the value of the document adopted at the Beijing meeting, Neill said.

Lee from South Korea said such an agreement is not necessary between Japan and South Korea because there is no danger of a war between the two countries, but it is of great significance to share the idea indicated in the document between Japan and China.

The accord is expected to help repair relations of trust between Japan and China, Lee noted. In promoting debate-oriented diplomacy, the initiative should focus on grass- roots private-sector endeavors so that basic ideas and visions may be shared among the parties concerned, she said.

Snyder from the United States also highly praised the no-war pledge adopted in Beijing. In view of the soured relations between the Japanese and Chinese governments, the fact that a private-sector meeting adopted so positive an agreement was "a big surprise," he said. There should be many things that United States can do to cooperate in enhancing the idea of the agreement as an international norm in East Asia, Snyder said.

Noting that Southeast Asia has been exposed to threats from other regions over centuries, Ali from Singapore stressed the importance of the no-war pledge. A common platform for dialogue should be built and peaceful dialogue should be explored even between countries with different positions, Ali said. This is the only means of averting a war and realizing the aim of the agreement, he said.

Zhao said that the meaning and importance of the agreement should be explained first of all to the peoples of China and Japan so that non-governmental diplomacy may function in an effective manner. The message "We want peace" should be thoroughly conveyed to each other's country in order to build mutual confidence and this is a mission for non-governmental diplomacy, he said.

MiyamotoMiyamoto stressed the difficulty of having people from all walks of life understand the value of the no-war pledge at the moment. First of all, intellectuals in Japan and China should fully exchange views about what kind of order must be established in East Asia, and what must be done to this end, he said.

Efforts should be made by each country to build a favorable debate environment so that the results of their discussions may gradually spread among the general public, Miyamoto said.

Expanding on the aim of the agreement issued after the Beijing meeting, Kudo said that the term "no war" was not a simple remark. "A crisis exists before our eyes," he said.
At a time when government-to-government diplomacy between Japan and China has come to a standstill, and a critical situation is left unattended, people involved in the work on the document were concerned about who should find a way out of the situation, Kudo said. "Unless we deal with the situation as stakeholders, the no-war pledge will not be implemented," Kudo said.

The Genron NPO and its Chinese counterpart, China Daily, a newspaper publisher, will convene the 10th Tokyo-Beijing Forum later this year. Kudo stressed his resolve to hammer out an agreement on how to embody the idea of the document at the upcoming meeting.

Ichiro FujisakiIn his closing remarks, Ichiro Fujisaki, a former Japanese ambassador to the United States, noted that Japan-China relations have been often referred to using the phrase "Cold political relations, but hot economic relations." As a result, only political and economic issues have been highlighted so far, but "the private sector" has emerged as "a third pillar," said Fujisaki, currently a distinguished visiting professor at Sophia University.

While warning that private-sector sentiment tends to cool easily, Fujisaki said that proper public opinion should be created so that the two countries do not send the wrong messages to each other. Referring to the role The Genron NPO must play from now on, he said that it should contribute more to creating a peaceful and stable order in East Asia so that it may be called a "new peace organizer."

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