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By Ruth Beatrice Henig
The Baroness Henig CBE
March 02, 2015

I took part in a symposium, hosted by the Japan Forum on International Relations, together with 8 other European participants, about a dozen leading Japanese academics, and over 100 Japanese scholars, journalists and other invited guests. The symposium was introduced by the Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Takashi UTO, and was divided into three sessions.

The first session focused on the situation in East Asia and in particular on the economic rise and growing military power of China and what Japan`s response should be. There was a lively discussion on Chinese-Japanese relations, and some differences of view between the European and Japanese academics participating in this session about Japan`s role in Asia since the early 1930s, and whether Japan had gone as far to make amends to invaded countries for crimes committed in wartime as Germany had done in Europe. Perhaps not surprisingly, there was no agreement reached on this thorny topic.

The second session looked at the political and economic policies of Prime Minister Abe. He had just called a snap general election, and the symposium was being held on the day that the Lower House was dissolved. There were very interesting analyses of Abenomics and of his foreign policy by Japanese academics, and I made a very brief contribution to the debate. I made the point that leading economists in the UK were very supportive of Prime Minister Abe`s efforts to expand and revitalise the Japanese economy, though there was some concern about whether the necessary structural reforms, the third `arrow` of the economic reforms, would be far reaching enough to be effective. I also commented on the Prime Minister`s very active foreign policy, and hoped that Japan would continue to play an active role globally, at the United Nations, and in agreements with European countries, as well as focusing on the challenges nearer to home in East Asia. Most of the discussion in this session centred on the economic policies, and whether or not they would in the longer term be successful in revitalising the Japanese economy.

The third session of the symposium looked at areas for Japan-European Union co operation, and how the two partners could work together most fruitfully in the future. There were a number of interesting contributions, and a lot of agreement on the need for the major European powers and Japan to co-operate on a wide range of issues, from defence and peace-keeping to climate change and economic growth.

Overall, the symposium was extremely interesting, and provided a very good framework within which Japanese and European scholars and commentators were able to exchange views and opinions on a range of contemporary issues.

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