"Japan-US Relations" at Hofstra University Student Presentation
FUMIO IWAI, DIRECTOR, JAPAN INFORMATION CENTER
4 November 2011
Thank you very much for being here. I'm very happy to be speaking in this intimate setting with a group of bright young people. As you know, I'm going to talk to you today about Japan from the perspective of a career diplomat. I hope what you learn from my speech will leave you with lots of questions, as I am eager to hear from you about your impressions of Japan.
I'm sure your current impressions of Japan are at least somewhat colored by what we all witnessed on March 11th. Here is a video to refresh your memory.
The Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing tsunami left a huge area of Japan's northeast, or Tohoku region, without water, electricity or transportation infrastructure. Approximately 16,000 people were killed, 6,000 are still missing and over 124,000 have been displaced (as of November 4th, 2011). Further, an emergency situation arose at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station that required all residents within a 20km radius to be evacuated. The cost of all damage incurred from the disasters is estimated at 17 trillion yen, or $224 billion.
Two months ago, Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda took office. His area of primary concern is recovery and reconstruction of the Tohoku region. In the medium to long term, the government aims to create disaster-resilient local communities, eco-friendly social systems and a welfare-oriented society. Reconstruction financing will occur through measures that will not cause an increase in long-term debt levels, the establishment of an independent Reconstruction Agency and speedy cash disbursements to individuals and small businesses in the affected areas.
Reconstruction has been progressing well. Major transportation infrastructure like the shinkansen bullet train service, major highways and Sendai Airport were all restored shortly following the disaster. No large skyscrapers collapsed and those areas with widespread destruction have had debris removal moving forward swiftly. Please take a look at the distributed materials for a better idea of the status of the recovery.
A separate but related and equally challenging issue to be dealt with is the situation surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station. The main focus of the government is on decontamination of the surrounding areas and detection of heightened radioactivity in other areas. TEPCO's roadmap for Fukushima Daiichi aims to achieve cold shutdown of the reactors by the end of December.
The problems at Fukushima Daiichi necessitated a review of safety measures at all nuclear facilities in Japan. While those checks were ongoing, the Japanese people steeled themselves for setsuden, or the voluntary energy saving measures, so as to ward off brownouts and blackouts during the summer energy peak demand period. Thanks to the efforts of public agencies, corporations and individuals across the country, energy consumption was cut by 18% and Japan was able to make it through the summer without power supply problems.
However, in recognition that this policy of "energy austerity" is only viable as an emergency measure, Prime Minister Noda has stated publically that nuclear power must remain a part of Japan's energy mix in the medium and long term. Further, the government will be working together with electric utilities to complete safety inspections and safety upgrades to nuclear power stations as soon as possible in order to head off potential energy supply problems next year.
Japan places great importance on playing an active role in the international community. As a landlocked country, Japan was historically closed off from the rest of the world outside of its immediate neighbors like China and Korea. But in the modern world, Japan has come out of its proverbial "shell" and takes an active role in such organizations and frameworks as the UN, APEC, ASEAN+3, G7 and G20, to name a few. Japan is consistently ranked among the most generous donors to developing countries, with an overseas development aid, or ODA, budget of 1.7 trillion yen, or $22 billion, in FY2010.
Before we go further into the details of Japan's foreign relations, I would like to give you a brief introduction to the structure and function of the Japanese Government. From the early 17th century for over 250 years, Japan was a feudal nation governed by a number of daimyos, or regional lords, with the Tokugawa shogun acting as the head of government in Tokyo. The Emperor, in Kyoto, was the official head of state, but was effectively a figurehead. With the opening of Japan's borders to foreign trade and exchange in the mid-19th century, a revolution took place, where the Emperor's prominence was restored, and a group of mainly Western-educated officials guided the country to modernity and economic prosperity.
Following World War II, Japan enacted a new Constitution in 1947 which set in place a Westminster-style democratic government. Japan has a bicameral legislature known as the Diet. The Upper House is known as the House of Councillors and the Lower House is known as the House of Representatives. All Diet members are elected directly by the people. All laws originate in the Diet and normally must be passed by both houses in order to be enacted.
The Cabinet is the executive and the Prime Minister leads the Cabinet as the head of government. The Prime Minister is the president of the majority party in the Diet. The judiciary is made up of judges appointed by the Cabinet. The current Prime Minister, as stated previously, is Yoshihiko Noda, the head of the Democratic Party of Japan. The Prime Minister, like the President of the United States, is Japan's face abroad, and undertakes important responsibilities in this regard, including securing Japan's relationships with its international neighbors.
Without a doubt, the most important international relationship Japan currently shares is with the United States. The legal lynchpin of this relationship is the Japan-US Security Treaty, which holds that the US will defend Japan from attack and Japan will provide bases for US Forces within Japan for this purpose.
These bases have also provided benefits outside of purely defensive terms. Immediately following the March 11th earthquake and tsunami, the US Forces Japan launched Operation Tomodachi, or Operation Friend. In total, Operation Tomodachi provided 20,000 personnel, 20 seagoing vessels, and 160 aircraft for humanitarian relief. The deployed personnel and resources engaged in operations including transporting food and water, providing protective gear, carrying out search and rescue, repairing Sendai International Airport and clearing debris. This tangible expression of friendship is greatly appreciated by all of the Japanese people.
The importance of the Japan-US relationship was underlined at recent summit and foreign ministerial meetings held this past September on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly here in New York. President Obama and Prime Minister Noda discussed issues including recovery from the March 11th disaster, the global economic recovery and North Korea. Also, Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and they shared view on a number of topics. Such summit and ministerial meetings serve to strengthen the high-level connections between Japan and the United States, and occur soon after a change of administration in either country.
I can personally attest to the strong connections between Japan and the US from my previous diplomatic postings in the Middle East. I will show some pictures I took in the Middle East on the screen as I speak. While in Baghdad, the Japanese Embassy was originally located outside the highly fortified area known as the Green Zone. For security reasons, the Green Zone was frequently and without prior announcement closed off. This posed a serious logistical problem for us since our Iraqi Government counterparts were all within the Green Zone. However, with tremendous help from the US military, we were able to find a building within the Green Zone to relocate to.
The Japanese Government's efforts in several areas made Japan apart of the coalition. The Air Self-Defense Force, or ASDF, undertook airlift operations between Kuwait and Baghdad, and when travelling out of Iraq, I would fly in a Japanese ASDF C-130H cargo plane to Kuwait. But between Baghdad Airport and the Embassy, I was transported via United States Army Blackhawk helicopter.
I thus had an opportunity to meet and talk with many American servicemen at many levels. One thing I noticed was that many of those American soldiers had been previously stationed in Japan and had a very favorable and positive impression of Japan and the Japanese people.
To continue the friendship we shared with the US personnel stationed in Iraq and to remind those soldiers of what Japan is like, we decided to hold a sushi party at the Embassy. You can imagine the logistical problems this posed. Fresh fish, or fish of any kind, is extremely hard to come by in Iraq. As a compromise we had frozen crab leg meat, canned abalone, and smoked salmon flown in. This was served with rice and garnished with locally grown cucumbers.
In return for this sushi party, some of us at the Japanese Embassy were invited to DFac FAC (or the Dining Facility) on the US base for a meal. At Camp Victory, the location of this meal with our US military friends, the US military employed workers of many different nationalities. In order to make them feel comfortable, there was always a vast array of different ethnic foods available at DFacAC. You could even get Baskin Robbins ice cream! To me, this was a clear sign of the United States Government's commitment to cultural respect and diversity.
You might have noticed that I have not referred to the Japanese military, or to Japan's air force, army or navy. Instead, Japan is protected by the Self-Defense Forces, which are meant to defend Japan, and only defend. The reason for this is the Japanese Constitution, which prohibits Japan from declaring and waging war. However, this has not stopped Japanese defense personnel from engaging in peacekeeping and support operations around the world.
Further, the SDF have been active in counter-terrorism and anti-piracy operations. MSDF vessels provided refueling services for naval vessels of the US and other countries undertaking anti-terrorism operations in Afghanistan, and MSDF vessels engaged in escort operations for ships travelling in and around the waters off the coast of Somalia.
The SDF also undertook humanitarian relief operations in Samawah, Iraq. The GSDF group undertook medical care, water supply and infrastructure improvement operations there as part of the US-led coalition.
I will get back to Samawah shortly, but I would like to recall another experience of mine dealing with the Iraqi city of Fallujah. That city used to be a hotbed of the insurgency, in collaboration with al Qaida, where Americans fought fierce battles till 2007. However, General Petraeous's "surge" of US troops, which went hand in hand with growing local discontent with al Qaida's actions, changed the composition of the fight. Japan was committed to the goal of pushing local's hearts and minds away from al Qaida and towards democratic allies who were working for their freedom. I wanted to do something in Fallujah to consolidate the gains won by the US surge strategy.
Then, when I was stationed as Deputy Chief of Mission at the Japanese Embassy in Baghdad in 2007, I recalled a proposal put forward to me, while serving as director for Gulf affairs at the Foreign Ministry headquarters in 2004, by a Japanese NGO group to build a children's hospital in Fallujah. I thought that while there seemed no hope of realizing the project for obvious security reasons at that time, with the improving security situation in Fallujah following the surge, there was a good possibility to move it forward, so I decided to help. With logistical assistance from the UNDP, funding from my Government, medical equipment from the NGO and transport services from the US military, the hospital was finally built.
I'd like to now show you a video that describes the SDF's mission in Iraq.
I've talked a lot about my roles in the Middle East years ago, but I have failed to describe my current position. Currently I am the Director of the Japan Information Center, or JIC, here at the Consulate General in New York. The JIC has a number of functions, and works together with various ministries and offices of the Japanese government. We administer the selection process in this jurisdiction for the Japan Exchange and Teaching, or JET Program which sends US college graduates to Japan to teach English. We also engage with educational institutions through our connections with MEXT, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. On the media end, we are responsible for public affairs, media relations and media monitoring, and we also promote Japanese culture and tourism to Japan.
One of our main focuses for the coming year is the Sakura Centennial. This marks the one hundred year anniversary of the gift of cherry trees, or sakura, from the Mayor of Tokyo to the United States. I would like to encourage all of you to attend and support the many events that are planned. And of course, please go to one of the city's parks or botanical gardens and enjoy the beautiful pink cherry blossoms while in bloom in the spring. In this way, you will be able to experience a little bit of Japan right here in New York.
I would like to thank you all very much for your attention. It is rare that I get the chance to converse and engage in a dialogue with students like yourselves, and I'm looking forward to your questions, and hearing about your impressions of Japan.