Lundi 22 Avril 2019  

N°124 - Quatrième trimestre 2018

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  S.E.M. / H.E. Ichiro Komatsu

A renewed partnership between France and Japan

The close ties between Tokyo and Paris go back over one and a half centuries of diplomatic relations, and both countries are planning to build fresh momentum around their strategic dialogue today. Japan’s Ambassador to France H.E. Mr Ichiro Komatsu told us about the reasons behind the shared drive to boost cooperation ties in both countries, what the drive to rebuild the regions shattered by the extensive March 2012 earthquake have achieved so far and, more generally about initiatives to embark the Japanese economy on a fresh boom.

The Diplomatic Letter: Mr. Ambassador, during his first official visit to Asia, on 7-8 July 2012, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius confirmed that reinvigorating the Franco-Japanese partnership is a top priority for France. Are you pleased with this new turn in French diplomacy? Has the strategic dialogue opened up between the two countries’ Foreign Ministers helped move things forward in this arena?

H.E. Ichiro Komatsu: We have been very moved by the repeated statements made by the President of the French Republic, since his election, underscoring the importance of Franco-Japanese relations, which have been echoed by several members of the new government, including the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Needless to say, Japan considers its ties with France – a country that shares its fundamental values, such as respect for human rights, democracy, the rule of law, and a free market economy – to be of utmost importance. We are consequently convinced that we must do everything in our power to strengthen these relations.
Immediately after the appointment of the new French government, in May 2012, we saw a sharp upsurge in efforts to bolster these ties, most notably through the launching of dynamic high-level bilateral meetings (including meetings in the United States between the leaders and the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of both countries; and Prime Minister Laurent Fabius’s trip in July to Japan, where he met with his Japanese counterpart Koichiro Gemba). Koichiro Gemba in turn visited Paris, in October 2012, to push forward with the strategic dialogue opened with Laurent Fabius. We are determined to not let this dynamic wane, and are currently studying the possibility of an official visit to Japan by the French President, sometime in the near future.
The framework for the strategic dialogue between the Japanese and the French Ministers of Foreign Affairs was laid out during a May 2011 meeting between France’s Head of State (Editor’s note: Nicolas Sarkozy, at the time) and the Japanese Prime Minister. The first session of this strategic dialogue took place during Alain Juppé’s trip to Japan, in January 2012, when he held the duties of the French Minister of Foreign Affairs.
The second session of the strategic dialogue was held on 16 October 2012, during Minister  Koichiro Gemba’s visit to Paris. This dialogue is the concrete expression of France’s and Japan’s shared desire to forge a “special partnership” between the two nations. The latest session was an opportunity for in-depth exchange on bilateral relations, in a long-range perspective. Concrete projects in the political, economic, cultural and scientific arenas were also discussed, as well as ways to reinforce ongoing cooperation on strategic and security issues. There was talk of laying out a 5-year roadmap, divided into three parts, which would focus on promoting the two countries’ shared values, expanding economic ties, and enhancing cultural exchanges. These discussions will serve as the groundwork for preparing the next round of high-level visits, both in Japan and in France. Our Ministers of Foreign Affairs talked in depth about pressing global issues, as well as the strategic situations in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. They reiterated their desire to cooperate even more closely on global issues and in their responses to international crises.

T.D.L.: Could you share your thoughts on the way bilateral interactions have progressed in the 150 plus years since our two countries opened diplomatic relations?

H.E.I.K.: Japan and France share the same fundamental values, as I mentioned earlier, and are facing the same challenges common to developed countries. Japan and France have maintained extremely cordial relations for more than 150 years, recognizing that they are vital partners for one another. Needless to say, our two countries are bound by close diplomatic relations and have also forged dynamic industrial ties. However, when I compare the current situation to the situation I encountered here more than 36 years ago, during my first stay in France, when I was one of the youngest members of the embassy staff, I see greater mutual understanding now between Japan and France, especially on a cultural level. I have also noticed that there has been a real “Japanese boom” in France. The multitude of restaurants now serving Japanese cuisine all across the country bear witness to this, as well as the many enthusiasts of Japanese literature and cinema I have met here. The countless expressions of solidarity and support we received after the Great East Japan Earthquake offer further proof of the close ties that unite us.

T.D.L.: One and a half years after the “Great Earthquake” hit eastern Japan, on 11 March 2011,  sparking the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s government launched the “Strategy for the Rebirth of Japan.” Could you outline the key objectives behind this strategy for our readers?

H.E.I.K.: The «Strategy for the Rebirth of Japan» was approved by the Council of Ministers in late July 2012. It lays priority on fostering the recovery of disaster areas, with the aim of guaranteeing  an average nominal economic growth rate of 3% and an average real growth rate of 2% through 2020. It will do this by setting aside priority funding for four “projects for the recovery of Japan,” and launching a package of measures designed to rapidly end deflation and fight the sudden rise of the yen.  
The Strategy is founded on four “projects for the recovery of Japan” that focus on three key policy areas: «Green» (a project for building a society that respects the environment and promotes innovative energies); «Life» (a project designed to create the world’s leading health, medical care, and welfare society); «Agriculture, forestry and fisheries» (which strives to reinvigorate regions driven by agriculture, forestry and fishing industries); and the «Small- and Middle-sized Enterprises» project (designed to make these businesses more dynamic).  
These four key projects encompass eleven strategic areas (fostering scientific and technological innovation, promoting tourism, training workers, etc) identified by the Strategy, which also sets out priority actions to be taken in each area.

T.D.L.: Could you describe the headway made in your country’s efforts to rebuild disaster areas?

H.E.I.K.: The reconstruction of areas hit by the earthquake is moving steadily forward. Their infrastructures were rebuilt surprisingly fast. The same was true of their supply chains, which were back in operation a few months after the disaster. By the summer of 2011, Japanese economic activity had regained its pre-crisis level.
Japan has not stopped at simply rebuilding these areas, but wants to use the disaster to spur the “rebirth” of its economy. To that end, it is currently setting out a program of reconstruction and “rebirth,” over the mid to long-term. This program seeks to create, among other things, a society that can protect itself from the risks of natural disasters and transition into a “green economy.” It also includes measures designed to meet the needs of our aging population.
The notion of “open reconstruction” is another key element. In order to reenergize the Japanese economy, we are now open to investments by foreign firms and gladly welcome foreign tourists to Japan.

T.D.L.: On a broader level, could you describe some of the core strengths of Japanese society that should help it come bouncing back?

H.E.I.K.: I think they can be found in the moral values of the Japanese: their enduring strength, their industrious nature, their volunteerism and their respect for others. The ties («kizuna») that unite the various members of a community are also important, and particularly strong at the local level.

T.D.L.: With nearly all of the country’s nuclear plants now shut down, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has opened a debate on the realignment of Japanese energy policy. Given the exorbitant sums your country pays to procure its gas supply, where do you see Japan’s nuclear sector headed in the future? How will Japan ensure its energy security?

H.E.I.K.: With regard to the future of Japan’s environmental and energy policies, on 19 September 2012, the Council of Ministers decided to open responsible talks with local authorities and with the international community, in view of implementing an «Innovative Strategy for Energy and the Environment.» We will move forward with this strategy in a flexible but unswerving manner, while working to make the Japanese people understand its importance. This strategy will make use of any and all available resources (human, budgetary and material), especially in the green energy sector, to make Japan completely nuclear-free sometime in the 2030s. Technological advances and the global energy situation are difficult to foresee, which is why the Council of Ministers stated very clearly in its decision that it would be constantly monitoring and modifying Japan’s energy mix, nuclear energy included.
As for the issue of nuclear waste reprocessing and the other stages of the nuclear fuel cycle, the government believes it is duty-bound to respect the international obligation to use nuclear energy peacefully and comply with Non-Proliferation Treaty. Far from straying from the policies followed in the past, the Council of Minister’s decision laid out the guidelines for launching in-depth debates with the various authorities involved in this matter.

T.D.L.: As it gears up for the international conference it is co-organizing with the IAEA in Fukushima, what is Japan doing to help revise security standards in the nuclear arena?

H.E.I.K.: Japan is aware of its responsibilities in this arena. It will continue to share the experiences and lessons it has learned from the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant with the rest of the international community, and will work to help enhance international nuclear safety.

T.D.L.: As the world’s third largest economy, Japan is working hard to get its economy growing again. Which specific technology sectors, such as renewable energies, hold the greatest growth potential? What is your government doing to bolster them?

H.E.I.K.: One of the vital elements of the «Strategy for the Rebirth of Japan,» which I spoke of earlier, is the «Green Growth Strategy.» It sets out an array of key measures, including: cornering the global market for next generation cars; creation of new markets by promoting electric batteries; and creating and developing smart “communities” around the globe that make it possible to produce and consume energy at the local level. These measures – which focus on essential technological sectors as well as renewables energies – are the real keys to the rebirth of Japan.
In order to implement them, the «Strategy for the Rebirth of Japan» calls for earmarking funds for a limited number of priority missions, thanks to a strict division of the inter-ministerial budget, which will prevent any waste. In order to support small- and medium-sized businesses, which will be key players in this, it also calls for setting up a financial mechanism that will provide a wide range of assistance (management advice; practical tips for businesses looking to break into the global market; financing assistance; aid in recruiting, training and hiring personnel; aid for getting businesses running again, etc.).

T.D.L.: As one of the world’s top financial centers, Japan has been hit hard by the “hyperinflation” of the yen, considered a “safe currency” since the outbreak of the international financial crisis. Given the preponderance of exports in Japanese GDP, is your country taking measures to counteract this upswing?

H.E.I.K.: In Fall 2011, we laid out a general response plan to the surging yen, with the following objectives: first, curbing the negative impact of a strong yen; next, building an economy that can withstand this risk; and finally, making maximum use of the potentially positive effects of the yen’s rise. More concretely, we have begun granting more subsidies aimed at keeping the labor market stable and boosting equipment investments. We have also created a special mechanism to foster greater private investment abroad, backed by our extensive exchange reserves. We intend to continue steadily implementing both of these measures.
On the other hand, a strong yen can be an incentive for Japanese companies to invest abroad. We will thus work hard to create an economic climate that encourages investment, and to provide Japanese companies looking to break into foreign markets with all the information they need to do so. The official opening of talks between the European Union and Japan in view of establishing an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) will certainly be an important step in promoting greater investments by Japanese firms, which will create jobs and stimulate economic growth in Europe, and more particularly in France.

T.D.L.: Now that the crisis has spread to the euro zone, which reforms would you like to see at the top of the G20 agenda? How is Japan coordinating its efforts with those of the European Union in this arena?

H.E.I.K.: With regard to European sovereign debt, we believe the really important thing right now is for the EU to do its utmost to reduce the debt, in a responsible manner. We believe, nonetheless, that the international community must help support these efforts. We have begun taking concrete steps in this direction, for instance by making regular bond purchases from the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF). We should also mention the fact that Japan was the first to announce it would pledge $60 billion to help bolster the IMF’s lending power, even before the meeting in April 2012 between G20 finance ministers and central bankers. Japan hence played a key rôle in putting together the agreement to enhance IMF resources.
We have seen a handful of positive signs since last September, such as launching of the Outright Monetary Transactions (OMT) program by the European Central Bank to buy up the public debt of euro zone member states. The European Commission has also made headway in its talks on the creation of a single supervisory mechanism for all European banks. We are delighted with these advances and hope to see the EU actively implement these agreements, so that these markets can be stabilized.

T.D.L.: During the January 2012 session of the UN General Assembly, your country joined its fellow G4 members in reiterating their support for enlarging the UN Security Council. Why has putting this reform on the agenda proved to be so difficult?

H.E.I.K.: The Security Council missions have been expanded, but its composition has remained more or less the same since its creation. Everyone now recognizes the need for structural reform, in order to make the Council more representative and enhance its effectiveness. Intergovernmental talks were opened in February 2009 to that end, within the framework of the UN. Japan supports this reform, and maintains that the number of permanent and non-permanent members must both be increased. We are taking this realistic stance in our discussions with the governments of the other countries, to ensure that this reform is enacted as quickly as possible.  
Our country responded very favorably to the concrete proposals recently put forward by Zahir Tanin, the Chairman of the intergovernmental negotiations on Security Council reform. Not only Japan, but also Brazil, Germany and India voiced their unanimous support for these proposals, when the G4 Foreign Ministers met in September 2012 to discuss Security Council reform. They were very pleased to see the majority of UN Member States voice their approval for enlarging both categories of Security Council members, and agreed that this strong support among UN nations must be echoed in the talks between Member States.
Japan will nevertheless continue to work actively with Chairman Tanin and other countries, in order to implement this reform.

T.D.L.: Japan has made gaining a permanent seat on the UN Security Council one of its top diplomatic goals. Can you tell us why your country is determined to become a permanent member of the Security Council? Are you pleased with the way the Council has handled recent humanitarian issues, such as the political crises in Mali and Syria?

H.E.I.K.: Maintaining peace and security throughout the world is a key priority for Japan. This is why it has been chosen to sit on the Security Council on ten different occasions, a record for a non-permanent member. Not only has Japan actively participated in deliberations and decision-making within the Security Council, it has also been very closely involved – in both the United Nations and in other international organizations – on a wide range of issues, including disarmament, non-proliferation, reconstruction, and the establishment of lasting peace and human security in war-torn zones, in particular in Africa and Asia.
In order to secure lasting peace and prevent repeated conflicts, warring parties must, of course, be encouraged to reach an amicable settlement. But they must also be prompted to restore domestic security, which requires, among other things, removing anti-personnel mines and implementing some kind of DDR (disarmament, demobilization, reintegration) program. Humanitarian assistance programs must also be set up, focusing on things such as rebuilding basic infrastructures, supplying aid to refugees, monitoring the organization of elections, assisting police forces, or reanchoring the foundations of the country’s economy and society.
It is vital that international authorities, United Nations missions, and NGOs cooperate with these countries, to ensure this work is carried out harmoniously in every one of these areas. As for the political crises in Mali and Syria, Japan has called on the parties involved to end these crises, working closely with the other countries, in particular  within the framework of international organizations. Our country has also set up several emergency humanitarian aid operations. It has participated in the United Nations Peacekeeping Force. It has helped repatriate refugees and assisted former combatants to reintegrate society in several countries, including Afghanistan, Cambodia, East Timor, and various African countries. Japan is actively involved in international “peace building” efforts. We think that these accomplishments qualify Japan for a permanent seat on the Security Council, without mentioning the fact that Japan is the UN’s second largest financial donor.
Japan’s deep attachment to ensuring that the rule of law is respected in the international community should be underscored as well. Our country is working with France to anchor and strengthen the principle of the rule of law throughout the world. A good example of this is the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (Translator’s note: aka the Khmer Rouge Tribunal), which our two countries helped to create. We have taken a firm stance, contending that international conflicts must be resolved calmly and peacefully, in accordance with international law, a principle we know is also espoused by our partners, starting with France.    

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