Table Speech

What Formulates Japanese Diplomacy?

September 28, 2016

Ms. Yoriko Kawaguchi
Professor, Meiji Institute for Global Affairs

 “What formulates Japanese diplomacy?” We tend to think diplomatic policies are central but let me emphasize there are other underlying factors, including our national capability, diplomatic infrastructure and means of their implementation. I reassured myself how critical they were when I visited Syria in 2003 as a foreign minister.

 Syria was a pro-Japanese country and much more peaceful back then than the catastrophic situation we witness today. I had a chance to make a courtesy visit to President Bashar al-Assad at a gorgeous white marble palace on a small hill, designed by a celebrated Japanese architect Kenzo Tange in 1981. I felt proud of the outstanding achievements made by world-renowned Japanese artists who demonstrate our cultural power that earns respect from countries around the world.

 On my way to the palace, I was astounded to find a few tanks stationed halfway up the hill. I was not sure who their enemies were but the scene made me feel keenly the security environment and domestic situation were precarious in Syria. I also recalled what I had witnessed in Palestine before visiting Syria. There, Palestine leader Yasser Arafat had confined himself in a half-destroyed residence on alert for being sniped. I reaffirmed peace in Japan was surely a priceless asset.

 In Syria, I also met several members of the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV). They provided development assistance through different projects. I was told by the wife of the then Syrian foreign minister who kindly accompanied me that young JOCV members served to represent Japanese diplomacy, deepened friendship with local people and gained their trust and confidence. In total nearly 600 JOCV members have been sent to Syria since 1969, of which about 45% were female. I am sure such close ties built between the two countries will prove meaningful when peace is restored in Syria.

 About 41,500 JOCV members have been sent to 70 countries around the world to date, including senior volunteers who play an instrumental role in representing Japan. It is disappointing that the number of applicants keeps declining these days, as not a few volunteers have difficulties getting a job upon their return to Japan. When it comes to the number of diplomatic establishments and diplomats abroad, Japan has the minimum among major countries (USA, UK, Germany, France, Russia and China). Japan has 220 diplomatic establishments and deploys less than 6,000 diplomats, while China has 270 establishments and 9,000 diplomats. We must fortify these diplomatic footholds that formulate Japanese diplomacy.

 Before I close my speech, let me share a surprising scene I saw in Syria. As I stepped out of my hotel room, I found some telephone wires in the hallway and people working on their installation. I found out they were replacing the telephone cables as Secretary of State Colin Powell was to arrive the following day. It struck me that the USA would go that far to protect confidential information. As there is higher risk of email leakage in the present Internet era, how to strengthen diplomatic infrastructure has indeed become a challenging issue.