Japan's leadership in resolving global issues challenged

October 13, 2015

The Genron NPO hosted a debate session in October to discuss the best course for resolving global issues as part of the new World Agenda Studio program.

Two foreign policy specialists joined the discussion. They were Seiichi Kondo, a seasoned diplomat and former commissioner of the Agency of Cultural Affairs, and professor Saburo Takizawa of Toyo Eiwa University, who served as the representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Japan. Yasushi Kudo, president of The Genron NPO served as moderator.

Japan's insufficient engagement

The two experts agreed on the significance of contributing to the resolution of global issues with creative "ideas" matured through active discussion. Japan's engagements have been insufficient so far, they said, but now not only the government but the civil sector has an important role to play if Japan's voice is to be heard.

Prior to the discussion, The Genron NPO carried out a public poll, which showed that 97.8 percent of the 134 respondents agreed that Japan should actively contribute to resolving global issues. Meanwhile, 44.8 percent noted Japan has not played a sufficient role.

Asked about specific areas where Japan may best contribute, over 40 percent of the respondents pointed to the "reduction of greenhouse gases to prevent global warming." Other areas for Japan's engagement included "building a peaceful order in Northeast Asia," "prevention of regional conflicts," "eradication of poverty and hunger," and "improvement of global health care."

Japan has so far focused on contributing to the global community primarily through official development assistance programs, according to Kondo. Although global challenges have diversified beyond poverty and development into areas of terrorism and climate change, Japan is not quite prepared to deal with the new scope of issues, he pointed out.

The Japanese government has cut its commitments to dealing with global issues, partly because of the financial constraints caused by the gloomy economy, Kondo also noted.

More important, the Japanese seem to have a long way to go before winning global recognition for their potential in confronting worldwide challenges, the two discussants agreed.

Incapability of identifying issues, setting agendas

Takizawa said that Japanese are not quite capable of identifying or analyzing global issues, in setting agendas or establishing policy options. Kondo noted that the Japanese are good at responding to agendas presented to them, or in "passive" actions, but not good at recognizing problems and positively developing solutions for them, or "proactive" actions.

Takizawa observed that until the recent past, Japan had exerted its influence on the international community on the basis of its economic power. If the economy declines, so does the influence, therefore. Yet a country can offer not only economic resources but also new ideas that are valuable for the world, he added.

Referring to the Scandinavian nations, Kondo, who once served as Japan's ambassador to Denmark, said that those nations have developed their creativity and new ideas amid the pressure of competition from other powerful European nations.

"Japan has created a lot of great ideas that helped to improve the life of the Japanese people," Kondo said. "It is time to apply that talent now for the global community."

Both Kondo and Takizawa shared a belief that Japan has the potential to take initiatives in the future in contributing on global challenges. For instance, Takizawa sees his students' great interest in such issues as poverty and refugees leading them to a new awareness of global issues.

Such awareness would drive them to develop their thoughts further and then lead them to create new ideas for solving the problems, added Kondo.

"In order to develop such a new mind-set, the government, media and civic organizations should take initiatives to provide them with 'space for thinking,'" he said. "We have to foster such a new thinking culture to develop ideas in Japan."

工藤泰志Genron NPO President Kudo remarked that people often discover the presence of poverty in Japan, when they are pondering over the issue of global poverty, for instance. Takizawa nodded and said that such a "two-way," or bidirectional approach, is extremely effective in fostering a culture of open discussion.

Large role for civic sector

Civic power is important, too, in this trend, according to the experts.

The government is not always capable of making prompt actions as it is bound by "sovereignty." But strong public voices sometimes can drive the government, according to Kondo.

The civic sector is expected to develop public voices that can empower the government and pave the way for it to take official actions, such as, for example, signing a treaty concerned, he said.

The Genron NPO survey respondents appear to be in tune with the two experts. Asked what needs to be improved so that Japan can better deliver its views to the international community, 37.3 percent of them gave priority to "developing human resources capable of engaging and contributing to resolving global issues."

Meanwhile, 21.6 percent called for creating forums for discussing global agendas and a similar 21.6 percent for Japan to craft its views on global issues through discussion and make them known to the world.

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