March 08, 2019

_DZB1390.jpgAlice Ekman
Head of China research, French Institute of International Relations, France

Now that the Tokyo Conference has come to a close, what were your impressions?

It was a very interesting conference in many respects. What I really appreciated was that you have representatives from both political sides, from different political leanings, from the current administration, and from the opposition. I think this gave us a good overview of the political debate on foreign policy in Japan. It made me understand the Japanese perspective on East Asia, in more precise detail. Then on China-U.S. relations, and on the Korean Peninsula.

I also appreciated the fact that you have a session on think tanks. More than ever I think we have responsibility as think tank representatives and researchers. Because the world is changing at a very fast pace. You have officials who have official positions. Officials have to follow specific guideline, but we are free. We are completely free to say whatever we wish and as think tanks from democratic countries, we have a responsibility to use that freedom as much as possible. To develop a way of thinking that is free, innovative, and conducive to solutions.

So, in many respects. I think this conference was successful in developing free debate and issues. And I think this conference in the future will be successful in addressing what I call the impoverishment of the multilateral agenda.

There are so many issues in foreign policy, but more and more, a lot of people are focusing on the same issue, are looking at it from same way. We, as free think tanks, can bring issues that are undiscussed but that are emerging or that may generate conflict back onto the foreign policy agenda.
So once again, I would like to thank you for this very interesting conference, and all the best for the future.

Genron stands for responsible observation or opinion. This means we have to face the issues, and shouldn't evade our responsibilities. We believe in freedom and liberty, and those are the basic values we uphold. Within this context, we have to take a responsible approach to the problems that need to be solved. It is not discussion for the sake of discussion. We have to identify global issues, and we have to establish an approach to solve those problems. I think we need to provide food for thought. The Genron NPO, as a think tank, is offering a process through which citizens will be able to participate.

We are working together with professionals to offer such a path to citizens. We have to make an extra effort, otherwise democracy around the world will be disrupted.

That said, as you mentioned, the world is undergoing drastic change. Discussion and dialogue are needed, but nothing has yet been implemented. The old-fashioned approach to discussion continues to hold sway, and people are ignoring new trends. Therefore, when comes to this Tokyo Conference, it is tough for us to identify what issues need to be addressed. However, you and the other guests are all quite capable of joining into the discussion.

We will continue the discussion next year, but we don't believe that this should be a one-off event every year. Rather, there should be a continuous dialogue among think tanks. What do you think, and what expectations do you have for next year's Tokyo Conference?

For next year's conference, I would appreciate if we could continue focusing on what think tanks should do. What are they responsible are for? The first session on think tanks was very useful in this regard.

So next time, we should ask what can we do as think tanks. Around the world today, you have think tanks that are not developing freedom of expression. You have different types of think tanks in the world today. You have a number of think tanks who are not providing free speech for their researchers, or their researchers are constrained in one way or another. We are so lucky to have this freedom. For our specific type of think tank, think tanks in democracies, what can they do? I think it is important to form a special panel to address this issue. We are now witnessing emerging competition between different types of think tanks. Sometimes we meet in countries with different political systems, and we think we are from think tanks, so we are like counterparts, but in reality we are involved in very different backgrounds with very different working conditions. So, I think a panel on think tanks would be very appreciated.

I think also that addressing the future of multilateralism is also very important. Some people are talking about decline of multilateralism. After this conference in Tokyo, I am certain that we are witnessing a revival of multilateralism. While some countries are doubting multilateralism, some other countries, including Japan and France, are really investing in multilateralism. In the G20, in the G7, in other multilateral cooperation frameworks that are more informal. So, I really believe that we are just at the starting point of a wave of renewal of multilateralism. So how do we contribute to it, is there room for cooperation in some multilateral framework? We need to create new multilateral initiatives, or renew some of existing multilateral institutions. I think that is really worth creating specific panels for discussion.

The last topic I think we could touch upon is an issue that we discussed this morning: the relationship between domestic and foreign policy. We are think tanks from democratic countries. We are witnessing different domestic trends but also points of convergence. So, think tanks are also facing common challenges, including how to address the general public in this time of increasing skepticism toward intellectuals and experts. How to face populism but in a practical way. How to communicate to our population about the complexity of foreign policy. We are not public diplomacy tools. We are researchers. At the same time, we have a responsibility to engage in foreign policy debate, but we also have domestic policy responsibility to bring the complexity of the foreign policy debate back home. So I think the relationship between domestic and foreign policy issues can also be addressed in the framework of the Tokyo Conference.

I wholeheartedly agree. We will soon begin preparing for next year's conference, and we would appreciate any support you could provide us.

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