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Dialogue with Europe and the United States

Tags: Multilateral Cooperation , Democracy , Politics , Trade , Media

The Tokyo Foundation

May 14, 2012

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The Tokyo Foundation hosted the inaugural Trilateral Forum Tokyo on April 16 and 17, 2012, inviting over 40 lawmakers, government officials, journalists, scholars, business leaders, and other experts from Japan, the United States, and Europe for two days of intensive dialogue on the "New Global Architecture and Directions for a Transforming World."

Co-organized with the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), the forum explored a broad range of crosscutting challenges confronting the three regions, including the crisis of democratic governance, disaster relief, global financial instability, security dynamics, energy sustainability, and world trade.

Trilateral Forum Tokyo is the culmination of a three-year partnership with the GMF, which has been going beyond its traditional focus on transatlantic cooperation and expanding research on global issues.

In conjunction with the forum, a public symposium on "The Future of Trilateral Cooperation" was also held on April 17 featuring panelists who took part in Trilateral Forum Tokyo. The following is a report of the symposium.

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Brief opening comments from the panelists were followed by questions from the floor and a round of responses, which served to deepen the debate on specific topics. This was also the format used during the six plenary sessions of Trilateral Forum Tokyo to promote live debate.

Future of Democracy

Presenting his impressions of the forum, Keio University Professor Yuichi Hosoya, introduced comments made in reference to the Arab Spring. “Regimes in the Middle East have been brought down many times in the past,” he pointed out. “The metaphor of spring has connotations of hope and warmth, but spring always gives way to summer, autumn, and winter, so the metaphor may not be appropriate.”

He also noted that the rise of nondemocratic China has left some in Japan, the United States, and Europe wondering whether democracy really still is the best way of ensuring the highest economic growth and a prosperous future. He pointed to a common “ailment” affecting all three regions, namely, the seeming inability of democratic governments to make tough decisions on issues over which opinion is sharply divided.

Yuichi Hosoya, left, and Masafumi Ishii
Yuichi Hosoya, left, and Masafumi Ishii
Masafumi Ishii of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that three main issues were discussed in the session on security. “One obvious challenge in East Asia is to maintain good relations with China,” he commented. “There’s a need for fuller engagement, since we share many interests with that country.” He added that problems could arise, especially if China is unable to maintain its present pace of growth over the long term. “If that happens, the legitimacy of the Chinese leadership could be called into question in the absence of democratic elections.”

Another major security topic was the Obama administration’s recent “pivot to Asia” announcement. “The United States alone will be unable to address the full gamut of changing security threats. So those of us who want America fully engaged in the Asia-Pacific should offer a helping hand. Efforts to reinforce the Japan-US bilateral alliance could involve the fuller utilization of Japan’s defense technology or a shift to network-type security arrangements among America’s alliance partners.”

The third topic was Europe’s growing role in this region. “In addition to bilateral cooperation between Japan and the United States, a trilateral framework involving Europe is also bound to become important,” Ishii said.

German Ambassador Volker Stanzel pointed out that there are quite a number of issues that would profit from greater dialogue between Europe and Japan, such as efforts to shift from nuclear and fossil fuels to renewable energy sources; immigration, an issue of central concern to Europe and a potential issue in Japan; the aging of society and its implications for welfare and eldercare policy; resource nationalism, which Japan experienced at the end of 2010, when shipments of rare earths came to a halt; and a potential EU-Japan free-trade agreement.

“Like Japan, many European states are medium-sized countries that depend on the freedom of global markets for future prosperity,” Stanzel said. “So instead of just considering Japan-US or US-European relations, I think it would be profitable to examine avenues for greater EU-Japan cooperation.”

“Thin Soup”

Financial Times Asia editor David Pilling found it “a bit ironic” that the discussants in the final session on growth were from the United States, Europe, and Japan—the regions that are now struggling—and missing were representatives from fast-growing countries like China and India.

Very divergent views were expressed on trade, particularly the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which, Pilling noted, was characterized as being everything from “absolutely vital” to “thin soup” and even “poisonous.” Skepticism was expressed toward the popular view that free trade represents a win-win situation for everyone, as “a feeling is emerging in America that free trade can be a major challenge for the middle class.”

While protectionism has been a “dog that hasn’t barked” following the Lehman shock, subtler manifestations have appeared, Pilling noted, such as industrial policy encouraging domestic procurement and the quantitative easing of monetary policy.

The general prognosis for democracy was rather gloomy, commented Fred Hiatt, editorial page editor of the Washington Post. “Many of the issues I pay attention to in Washington have their parallels in Europe and Japan, such as concerns about growing social inequality and political paralysis,” he said. “A lot these challenges are due to the fact that we share demographic challenges like an aging population, which exacerbates political tensions of how the burdens of taxation and government are shared across generations.”

He added, though, “We need to have more confidence in the democratic system. Over the years, many countries have envied what have and have clamored for democracy, from South Korea and the Philippines to Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics, Arab states, and now even Russia. The more mature democracies have a responsibility to make the system work and to share their lessons and experiences.”

Use and Control of Cyberspace

The floor was then opened to some 140 members in the audience. To a question about the impact of the Internet, Ambassador Stanzel noted that there is a new political party in Germany called Pirates, “who are not attacking ships but are defending the freedom of the Internet from government control.” The party initially gained a foothold at the municipal and state levels, he said, and now claims 11% support nationwide. “I think this has big implications on how governments can impose control on the use of cyberspace.”

Volker Stanzel, left, and David Pilling
Volker Stanzel, left, and David Pilling
MOFA’s Ishii added that the issue was discussed from two angles. One was how to safeguard free access, with the United Nations slated to launch a rule-making initiative this summer based on rules currently being formulated by the European Union. The second was the use of the Internet as a tool for transmitting disaster-related information, including through the use of social media.

The problem of Internet governance has become a hot topic among political scientists, explained Professor Hosoya, in the light of the role played by social media in the Arab Spring. “Social networking has also had a profound impact on the shaping of public opinion. Quality newspapers like the Financial Times and the Washington Post have been very influential over the years, but there’s a growing gap between these media organizations and the discussions that take place on the Internet, which are frequently anonymous and can have very nationalistic overtones.”

Financial Times editor Pilling believed, though, that there was no need to distinguish between the high-brow media on the one hand and the anonymous social media commentators on the other. “Ideas should be fought out in the open,” he said, quoting a New York columnist who reported getting up every morning in the past to see what his six competitors had written. “Now he gets up to read what his six million competitors are saying. This is surely better!”

China and Democracy

A member of the Chinese embassy raised the point that democracy may not offer the solutions that Arab Spring supporters are seeking. He also pointed out that China today is very different from the China of the 1960s and 1970s. The ability of countries to change should not be underestimated, he said, and added that the patience of outside countries is very important.

The United States is fighting the war in Afghanistan with European allies because Congress approves money for it each year, Washington Post editor Hiatt explained. “Congress is elected by the people, and if the people didn’t support the war, it would very quickly come to an end.”

China’s development over the past 30 years has indeed been astonishing, Hiatt remarked, as “never in history have so many people been brought out of poverty so quickly.” But he was quick to note that when people inside China express a desire for democracy or parties other than the Chinese Communist Party, “they’re put in jail or sent into exile. So it’s not always the question of whether the outside world has patience but why the Chinese people themselves are not permitted to have a greater say in how the political system evolves.”

From the viewpoint of Japanese history, Hosoya added, “We could never have attained the kind of rapid economic growth that we experienced after 1945 without democracy.” Noting that democracy “isn’t black or white,” he suggested that there are already many elements in the current Chinese government that are democratic. “If China hopes to maintain its present level of economic growth, though, it needs to expand the domains where democratic principles prevail.”

Political Paralysis

To a question on whether the media has been partly to blame for the perceived political paralysis in the United States and Japan, Hiatt pointed to both the “disruptive and productive” aspects of digital media: “We have more readers than ever and less revenue than ever.”

He indicated that if there is a relationship between the media and political paralysis, “It’s probably in the area of increasing fracturing. In the past, you couldn’t help bumping into divergent views from time to time. But today, people can, if they choose, visit only those sites featuring the views they know they’re going to agree with. This has exacerbated the difficulty of reaching political compromises.”

This sentiment was echoed by Pilling, who noted, “If you look at our op-ed pages, where we have pieces by both internal columnists and external contributors, there is a real conversation going on.” He noted that this is not true of papers that have well-defined political positions. “But this is a disservice and I think is one cause of the fracturing that Mr. Hiatt just talked about. I think it can be very valuable to present more than one view or even opposing views.”

Trilateral Cooperation

Fred Hiatt, left, and Akiko Imai
Fred Hiatt, left, and Akiko Imai
Returning to the topic of trilateral cooperation, Tokyo Foundation Research Fellow and Director for Public Communications Akiko Imai asked panelists how Japan, the United States, and Europe can cooperate to maintain a stable and open world order and remain potent forces in world affairs.

Hosoya believed that global issues need to be tackled on three levels, the first being at the level of the Group of Seven or Eight, where the advanced industrial democracies can work together to build a consensus on the kind of order that should be built. “This agreement can then be used as the starting point for comments from the second layer, which would include emerging powers in the Group of Twenty like China, India, and Brazil, as well as Turkey, South Korea, and Indonesia.”

The third layer would be forums like the UN General Assembly or the COP conferences among a large number of parties. “If these forums had to negotiate from scratch, it would be impossible to reach any agreement.”

Ishii commented that trilateral cooperation is indispensable in maintaining peaceful relations with China and Russia. “The euro crisis highlighted the great influence Europe has over the Chinese economy, and I think that economic ties between Europe and Asia are much stronger than is generally perceived.”

Japan and Europe are both neighbors of Russia, with whom ballistic missile defense remains a sensitive issue, Ishii said. A potential area of cooperation would be the sharing with Europe of highly advanced missile defense technology that is being developed jointly by Japan and the United States.

“There is not enough dialogue between Europe and Japan on many essential topics,” lamented Stanzel. “The bipolar world order has disintegrated, and we now have less and less of a world order. Since the big new elephants in the room are not yet major contributors, the only thing we can rely on is the stability that Japan, the United States, and Europe has maintained over the past several decades.” This is why, he said, the three pillars of the global order must continue to talk together strategically and to devise ways to establish rules for a variety of new issues.

Pilling cautioned, though, against keeping China at arm’s length. “I would suggest that there are pitfalls to trilateral cooperation, which could be seen as an anti-China club or an attempt at containment.” This was not to suggest that China would become a preeminent world power, “but it’s clear that China will become a huge economy, perhaps one day even bigger than the United States, and more space will need to be created.”

A more useful area of trilateral cooperation, he suggested, would be in the area of financial architecture. “Even after the Lehman shock, there hasn’t been any reshaping of financial regulations, and this could invite even bigger consequences. Environmental issues and disaster preparedness are also areas where Japan can offer its ‘soft power.’”

Hiatt believed that the more established democracies can help younger, transitional democracies develop. “No country has all the answers, but our experiences can be very useful in addressing technical, practical issues, such as the development of libel laws and the building of political parties.”listofparticipants.png

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