From Oct. 26 to 24 Nov., I spent one month in Asia for conferences, field work and symposium (Mumbai, Hong Kong, Guangzhou and the last week in Tokyo).
In Tokyo, I had the privilege, together with European colleagues of other nationalities, to be invited to a program designed by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (“MOFA”) to promote exchanges of European opinion-leaders and academics with their Japanese counterparts. This program, tailored made for me, comprised four elements.
The first one was Individual visits to several ministries and think tanks for discussion on specific issues. The second one was the participation to a symposium co-sponsored by MOFA and Japan Forum on International Relations, with 9 Japanese panelists and 7European ones. Thirdly, I delivered some lectures at some institutions in Tokyo and finally I could enjoy some cultural visits.

I. Individual visits to ministries and think tanks

During this week, I had the great chance to meet specialists in ministries and think tanks for discussing issues of interest for my research which I had suggested beforehand.

  1. First, I had meetings at the MOFA on several topics, like Japan’s views on regional architecture within a deeper economic and institutional integration in Asia, Japan’s stance and views about amelioration of relations with China and channels of reciprocal communication to avoid uncontrolled escalation, status and prospects of the Japan-EU EPA negotiations, markets opening (in particular difficulties and prospects for the opening of Japan’s public procurement markets, etc.).
    On each of these topics, I benefitted of a high quality information from my interlocutors – both precise and comprehensive - , which is invaluable for my research and teaching.
    Besides, we had a collective meeting with Mr. Kenji Hiramitsu, Deputy Vice-Minister for Foreign Policy, MOFA, who gave us a very clear and comprehensive view of Japan’s foreign policy, in particular towards Asia.
  2. At the METI, I had the chance to have an in-depth exchange of views about the electric/electronics and nuclear sectors. I could get from very competent experts a comprehensive view of these two sectors, their present situation, challenges and prospects.
  3. At the Cabinet Office, Japan Economic Revitalization Bureau, I could raise all the questions I had about the so-called Abenomics and I received detailed information about the contents and schedule of this revitalization program. The discussion focused more specifically, as I wished, on the “third arrow” and in particular the deregulation of the electricity and health sectors.
  4. At the Cabinet Office too, I had the chance to meet the Director General and Director of the Gender Equality Bureau, both female officials. I was very impressed by their vision and determination to enforce measures to promote gender equality in all fields of professional and social life.
  5. At the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, I met some senior staff in charge of Employment Policy. I received detailed explanations about the issues which I had suggested beforehand, e.g. how to increase females and seniors participation to the labor market, how to reduce the gap in the two-tiered market between permanent and non- permanent employees, etc.
    Further to my questions, I got a far clearer view of Japan’s policy towards foreign workers: priority given to high level foreign resources (including students and trainees with incentives to stay in Japan), upgrading of the system for nurses and house workers, filling the manpower shortage in some sectors (e.g. shipbuilding and construction, the latter in relation to the 2020 Olympic games).
  6. In addition to these meetings in the above ministries, I could also thoroughly discuss two issues with outstanding scholars.
    The first one was Prof. Shimada Haruo, President of Chiba University of Commerce, with whom we discussed the Abenomics program, focusing on the “third arrow” and in particular on the labor market deregulation. Prof. Shimada’s views were particularly stimulating as he insisted on the necessary evolution of the present model: change of paradigm to face productivity decline (knowledge intensive approach rather than labor intensive one), abolition of the discrimination between regular and non-regular workers, etc.
    I met also Prof. Nakagawa Junji, Tokyo University about an important component of the “third arrow”, namely increasing growth potential by concluding FTAs with as many countries as possible. The program is very ambitious, since Japan’s foreign trade covered by FTAs is only 18% and the aim is to increase this percentage to 70% by 2017. FTAs in negotiation include the Japan-EU EPA, the TPP, the RCEP, the Japan-China-South Korea FTA, and a dozen of other bilateral FTAs. Prof. Nakagawa explained precisely the present situation for the most important ones and the need for overcoming some difficulties, e.g. the public procurement markets (EU-Japan Agreement) or the impact of imports of cheap agricultural products on Japan’s own agriculture. Regarding this last point, a revitalization plan for agriculture is to be implemented so as to restructure the sector by reforming the cooperatives, promoting sale of small land parcels to be gathered in larger farmlands, etc.

II. Symposium

Co-sponsored by MOFA and Japan Forum on International Relations, with 9 Japanese panelists and 7 European ones, the symposium gathered more than 100 participants. The topic was "Japan and Europe: Creating Together a Better Future – Rule-Based and Prosperous" and the presentations, focusing on the security policy and economic issues, were divided in three sessions: the East Asian situation, assessment of Abe Administration on political and economic issues, and finally the necessity of cooperation between Japan and the EU.

  1. Session I: "East Asian Situation – Actual Environment and Challenges"
    Recently, China has been more and more assertive in many fields, including in terms of military strength. This corresponds to a new concept designed by Chinese President Xi Jinping, the so-called. "New Type of Major Power Relations". China's strategy is to gradually control the Asia-Pacific region, so that its territorial claims in in the East China Sea (Senkaku) and South China Sea (Paracels, Spratleys, etc.) are part of this strategy.
    Japan's response to changes in its strategic environment is threefold. The first goal is to strengthen the effectiveness of its defense policy through several measures: creation of a National Security Council (NSC), end of the embargo on weapons exports, cooperation with foreign countries for arms production, joint military exercises with foreign countries within the framework of collective self-defense, etc. The second goal is the strengthening of the U.S.-Japan alliance thanks to Japan assuming a bigger role in this strategic environment. The third pillar of Japan’s strategy is the reinforcement of security ties with ASEAN countries, South Korea, Australia as well as India.
    Another aspect is China’s increasing economic weight, in particular in the Asian region. This represents a challenge as the nature of the Chinese political regime does not place the rule of law as a priority. Consequently the respect of international rules, such as protection of intellectual property rights, shall be a major concern when dealing with China and its companies. Another sign of China’s ambitions in the Asian region is the creation and the control of some new multilateral financial institutions. Besides the New Development Bank led by China and other BRICs countries, China has announced the establishment of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), to which more than 20 countries will participate. China will also develop and fund is also the so-called Silk Road Project. Japan for its part, while using fully the Partnership (EPA) with the EU when competed, shall keep its economic position in Asia, in particular through conclusion of FTAs.
  2. Session II - "Abe Administration - Assessment of Its Political and Economic Policy"
    From December 2012, the Abe administration sent a message to the world that "Japan Is Back." Indeed, Japan's presence in the world decreased dramatically during the six previous years, during which Prime Ministers changed almost every year. The Abe administration emphasized the success of Abenomics in 2013 as well as the fact that Japan remains a major player in diplomatic and security matters.
    The situation became more difficult from mid-2014. Diplomatic issues were more complex: restart and suspension of the investigation into the abduction issue by North Korea, Ukraine crisis, high instability in the Middle East, delay in the review of the Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines, etc. In addition, results of Abenomics were less encouraging, so that all these elements led to the sudden Diet dissolution in November 2014 for a snap election.
    As for Japanese economy, the policies of Abenomics have brought about substantial changes. Their purpose is to answer two questions. How to stop the deflation? How to revive sustainable economic growth? Besides fiscal stimulus plans, the Abe Administration launched two other “arrows”. First, a huge input of liquidities in the economy, the so-called QE (Monetary quantitative easing, so as to trigger an inflation trend (and depreciating the yen at the same time), Second, the structural reforms (labor market, agriculture, FTAs, etc.) ", i.e. a growth strategy aimed at boosting private-sector investment. As for fiscal reforms, social security reforms seem even more important and urgent than tax reform.
  3. Session III - "Japan-Europe Cooperation – What are Their Respective Mutual Advantages and How Should We Use Them for a Better Future?"
    This was a wrap-up session during which lively interventions and discussions took place between Japanese and European panelists, with the following salient points.
    During his April-May 2014 trip to Europe, PM Abe detailed its roadmap for implementing a closer cooperation in five areas. The difficulty for Japan is to build its multilateral relationship with the EU (European Union) while developing its bilateral ties with EU members. While Japan appears fundamentally oriented toward the United States, the Japan-Europe cooperation could develop in several areas: joint cooperation toward Africa, gender quality, energy issues, global issues, cyber security and outer space, etc.
    In the field of security, some Europeans people may wonder why they should be concerned by Asian security: why not limit security efforts to issues in the Mediterranean Sea, in Africa and in Eastern Europe? One of the answers to this objection is Europe's own economic interests, which depends very much on Asia’s regional stability.
    In defense matters, one area of cooperation could be the strengthening of the interoperability between Japanese and European forces. Japan and Europe should cooperate not only in defense matters but also in maintaining peace and they should support fragile countries (post-conflict or conflict-stricken). Security cooperation should aim at human security, in particular through ODA, provision of medical services, post-disaster reconstruction, etc.

III. Lectures

I took the opportunity of my stay in Tokyo to give two lectures. The first one was for post-graduates students at Keio University where I have been in the past Visiting Professor. The second one was directed to members of the French Chamber of Commerce in Japan. The topic was the same, namely China’s financial expansion, and I presented the main themes of my latest book, “China, banker of the world?”: FDI, China’s saving/investment balance, expanding role of the Yuan, financial reforms, etc. I concluded that China is not yet a full-fledged financial power - contrary to the US and Japan - as it lacks two essential tools, an efficient financial system and a convertible currency widely used worldwide.

IV. Cultural visits

We were generously proposed by MOFA to choose some cultural visits either in Tokyo or in the rest of the country. As my schedule was very tight and since I have lived in Japan in the past, I proposed only one excursion which was of utmost interest for me. Indeed the Tomioka Silk Mill, located about 100 km northwest of Tokyo, has been built in 1871 by a Frenchman, Paul Brunat.
This Mill, which is Japan's oldest modern model silk reeling factory, has been designated by the government as a historical site and was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in June 2014. After the Meiji Restoration from 1868, the Japanese Government implemented the modernization of Japan to catch up with European countries. The Japanese raw silk was the most important export at that time and the government decided to equip a model filature with the most sophisticated machinery, so as to improve the quality of raw silk. Machinery was imported from France and the factory, directed by Paul Brunat, employed 400 female employees working on 150 silk reeling machines. The visit was for me not only informative about the techniques at that time but also about how the cooperation between Japan and Europe – France in this case – is deeply rooted in history.

This is the last image which I keep of this wonderful stay. I owe many thanks, primarily to the MOFA and to its staff, both in Tokyo and at Japan’s Embassy in Paris. My thanks go also to the interlocutors I had in other Ministries, universities and think tanks. More generally I thank all persons who made this stay so agreeable, including my guide and my driver. Organization was indeed perfect all the way through, so that day after day, this week has been very enjoyable and informative. Last but not least, the goal of this week was fully attained, namely to develop fruitful contacts and to exchange views in depth with Japanese officials and colleagues.

Claude Meyer

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