Non-governmental dialogue serves as foundation for peace-building efforts in Asia

November 26, 2015

By Yasushi Kudo, president of The Genron NPO

Popular support based on sound public opinion is indispensable for the facilitation of government diplomacy. We, The Genron NPO, are promoting "non-governmental diplomacy" with a strong resolve to foster among the public a favorable environment conducive to the government-to-government diplomacy.

In Northeast Asia, the negative sentiments of distrust among the publics of neighboring countries are having major negative repercussions on government diplomacy. In order to generate and expand public voices marked by a willingness to solve problems as stakeholders, it is important for many citizens and voters to squarely face the pressing transnational challenges as their own.

To this end, The Genron NPO has been organizing the Tokyo-Beijing Forum, an annual workshop that takes the form of an open forum for non-governmental dialogue between Japan and China, for the past 10 years without pause. For the past three years, we also have been holding what we call the "Future Dialogue," an annual forum for non-governmental dialogue between Japan and South Korea.

This October, we launched a new initiative to build an environment for peace by expanding the scope of our non-governmental dialogue to the whole of Northeast Asia. As the first multilateral dialogue, we organized in Tokyo the "Quadruple (or Four-Nation) Dialogue," involving Japan, the United States, China and South Korea. In the meantime, the Tokyo-Beijing Forum in Beijing marked the first year of its second decade since its founding.

With the rising power and influence of China as a pivot, this part of the world is undergoing sweeping changes, necessitating increased efforts by all the parties concerned to build peace and order, and drawing international attention. Along with the ongoing bilateral dialogues, it is deemed effective to try to identify common challenges and find solutions by involving the U.S., which wields broad influence on this region. In 2014, we were able to orchestrate the accords called the "No-War Pledge" between Japan and China at the Beijing meeting of the Tokyo-Beijing Forum, and publicized the agreement to the entire world. This historic agreement convinced me of the significance of launching new initiatives to start multilateral dialogue for peace-building in this part of the world.

Our dialogue features a joint opinion survey conducted in each of our partner countries to obtain data for discussions to identify tasks and find solutions. The findings of the Four-Nation Joint Opinion Poll covering Japan, the U.S., China and South Korea, and the latest Japan-China Joint Opinion Poll, released in October, have brought to light the deepening worries held by the publics of these countries about the consequences of the ongoing changes and the possibility of conflict in this region.

At the same time, the Japan-China survey found that 70 percent of the Japanese public and 60 percent of their Chinese counterparts cited "peace" as the most important value that should be pursued for the future of Northeast Asia, while close to 50 percent of both publics attached high value to "cooperation and development." For the peoples of both countries, peace is not only the "hope for the future" but the "pressing task."

I must admit that it is no easy job for us, in the private sector, to address the historic challenge of building peace in this region. For instance, we could not reach agreement and publish a joint statement at the end of the latest Tokyo-Beijing Forum. Yet, the delegates from Japan and China agreed on some points at the breakout sessions on economy and security issues, and we could see the discussions deepen and expand. As stated in the "No-War Pledge," the results of these dialogues will help facilitate efforts not only to establish favorable bilateral relations but also to build a new order in East Asia, if we could broaden our perspective to the issues facing the whole of the region and the global issues, as well.

In early November, the Japan-China-South Korea Trilateral Summit was held for the first time in three and a half years, with the top leaders of the three countries reaffirming that the summit should be held on a regular basis. I am pinning high hopes on the progress of future diplomatic efforts. Given the strong sense of distrust prevailing among the publics of the three countries, however, I cannot dispel my anxiety over the outlook of the upcoming governmental negotiations.

Peace and order will never be realized in this region, if we, ordinary citizens, stand aside and remain silent about the government's words and deeds, or if we just murmur our discontent with what our leaders are doing. It is important for individual citizens to take part in dialogue and speak out in one's own way for the solution of challenges facing our country and Asia as their problems. Raising our voices will serve as a foundation for the construction of peace and order.

This is a translation of a commentary by Yasushi Kudo, president of The Genron NPO, which appeared in the morning edition of The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan's largest-circulation vernacular daily newspaper, on Nov. 25.