Table Speech


Unreported Facts of Japanese Diplomacy—Personal View of Former UN Ambassador

April 10, 2019

Mr. Motohide Yoshikawa
Former Ambassador of Japan to the United Nations Distinguished Professor,
International Christian University


 ICU (International Christian University), my alma mater and my present work place, has .received enormous support from Rotary Clubs. Currently 18 Rotary scholars are studying in the graduate school of ICU and 5 of them are attending my classes. I wish to express my respect for Rotary initiatives in giving talented overseas students an opportunity to study in Japan and I sincerely hope their 2-year- stay here will be most fruitful.

1. Position of Japan
 Japanese territory is 380,000 square kilometers, the 62nd largest in the world and almost the same size as Germany. However, when it comes to Japanese EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone), it ranks 6th in the world with 4.65 million square kilometers. EEZ is a sea zone stipulated by the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, over which a state has special rights regarding the exploration and use of marine resources. Japan has not, however, settled all territorial disputes through peace treaties, as we have outstanding issues over Takeshima (Tokdo) Islands with South Korea, the Northern Territories with Russia and the Senkaku Islands with China.

 Now, if we turn the map upside down and try to see Japan from the positions of China, the Korean Peninsula and Russia, Japan stands in their way when they try to advance into the Pacific Ocean. There are five international straits in Japan: the straits of Soya (La Pérouse), Tsugaru, East and West Tsushima, and Osumi. Foreign vessels can navigate freely just like on the high seas, but cannot exploit seabed or marine resources within the Japanese EEZ. Japan is situated in a geopolitically advantageous location, which conversely triggers territorial disputes with neighboring countries.

 The Japanese economy used to rank No.2 in terms of GDP, but now China has overtaken us to rank No.2 after the USA. During my 42 years of diplomatic career, I have the impression that Japan is evaluated favorably by countries around the world. According to the 2017 BBC Survey on “Countries Giving Good Influence to the World,” Japan ranked No. 3, after Canada ranked No. 1 and Germany ranked No.2. In 2012, Japan was ranked No.1. 2. Diplomatic issues of 2019 The main diplomatic issue this year will surely be regarding the USA. I was UN Ambassador under the Obama administration and things went quite smoothly. Now my successor Ambassador Bessho must be facing various difficulties as President Trump detests the UN.

 The Trump administration was born by attracting supporters who feel frustrated by growing inequality and discrimination. When we look at the Gini coefficient commonly used to measure income inequality, the USA is the highest among G7 countries showing that the degree of inequality is very high. Japan is the 4th highest while Germany and France are the lowest. Ironically, the “United” States of America has now turned into the “Divided” States of America.

 As for military spending and economic strength, the USA is still far ahead of other countries. Not a few people think the closest world leader President Trump is associated with is “Shinzo Abe.” Such a close relationship is certainly advantageous for dealing with various outstanding issues. The three major issues between Japan and the USA for 2019 are security, trade and Asia-Pacific strategy.

 President Trump complains that Europe spends only 2% of its GDP for military expenditures. As Japan spends only 1%, Trump will surely tighten pressure on us. As for the trade issue, we can be more optimistic taking into account the extensive negotiations that have taken place to date. The problem is whether President Trump will really commit himself to the Asia-Pacific strategy. He often mentions “America First”, but what he is aiming at is rather “Trump First” and trying to put his profit ahead of everything else.

 Next issue is China. Being the 2nd largest contributor to the UN and by far the top contributor to PKO activities, Xi Jinping made a grand speech at the UN General Assembly in 2015 expressing human and financial contribution to the world, strong commitment to the international trade regime and addressing environmental issues. The main cause of US-China conflict is business practices, such as infringement of intellectual property or state intervention in business etc.

 US-Japan relations are now excellent, while Japan-China relations are not bad and US-China relations are very bad. For Japan, this is a good balance, as Japan-China relations are closely linked to US-China relations.

 As for North Korea, the US-North Korea top meetings were held twice. For the time being Kim Jong-un is the winner. President Trump will deal with North Korea from the perspective whether it will benefit his re-election.

 Briefly touching upon the issue of compensation claims over wartime laborers in South Korea, I must emphasize all the compensation claims for the period before and during WWII have already been settled under the 1965 bilateral agreement. As such, Japan does not need to be afraid nor respond to unjust claims. However, if we put ourselves in their shoes, it is more than a legal issue and has emotional consequences and historical background, which makes it harder to find a way out.

 Three years ago on April 22nd 2016, I signed the Paris Agreement on global warming in New York on behalf of the Minister of Environment who was unable to attend because of the Diet session. Japan should take leadership in this field, but regrettably there is not enough media coverage because the issue of nuclear power plants has not been solved yet. I strongly believe Japan should focus on this area and play an instrumental role in the diplomatic arena.