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Home > Debates Last Updated: 14:32 03/09/2007
Debate: Comment (January 31, 2003)

Comment on Mr. Lehmann's Response to Mr. Miyao

John de Boer (University of Tokyo, GLOCOM Platform)

This comment originally appeared in the "Japan-U.S. Discussion Fourm" ( on January 30, 2003: posted here with the author's permission.

In his recent posting in the Japan-U.S. Discussion Forum (, Jean-Pierre Lehmann wrote: "Mr Miyao is missing many points, but let me indicate just one. He writes, 'there have recently been some serious attempts to encourage open debate in English (!) among the Japanese on important issues relating to Japan, such as Japan's place in the world,' The key term here is 'among Japanese.' The fact that this is happening in English is fine, but the problem remains that it is happening 'among Japanese.' The absence of significant Japanese participation at international forums means, among other things, that the discussion is not likely to be nourished by the richness of external debates."

When Jean-Peirre Lehmann states that Japanese are absent from international forums in terms of 'voice' he is correct. Although one cannot deny that there are signs that this may be changing. GLOCOM Platform represents just one such initiative (that by the way is not limited to debate among Japanese, perhaps Lehmann should check out the The winds of change are evident, for example, in the recently released report of the Task Force on Foreign Relations for the Prime Minister entitled "Basic Strategies for Japan's Foreign Policy in the 21st Century New Era, New Vision, New Diplomacy" that opinion leaders in Japan are trying to seek a more active place in international politics and debate. The Japanese MOFA has also insisted for the past 4 or 5 years on the issue of "Human Security", since when have you heard the US talk about this concept. The Japanese government was also one of the first to talk of "corruption and aid" in relation to the PLO during the Oslo Process (witness the Ad Hoc Meeting of 1998). Furthermore, PM Koizumi's "boldness" (if you can call it that) in dispatching the Aegis and being more open in relation to rearmament and constitutional change etc will no doubt provoke debate as it already has. However, once again in terms of real, theoretical debates on actual problems that plague our world including poverty, disease, globalization etc. their voices are conspicuously silent. However, that does not mean that Japanese are happy about this situation.

For example let's look at the recently held World Economic Forum. As the second most powerful economy in the world, Japan no doubt has a large role to play in this forum. At the WEF, Japan was featured in seven sessions ("Helping Japan Avoid Another Lost Decade", "The Future of Asian Economies", Transforming a Country: A Blueprint for Japan", "Energy Security: Challenging the Pillars of Supply, "Putting the Japanese Economy Back on Track", The Global Economic Outlook" and "Blueprints for a New Asia"). According to the official WEF website there were approximately eight Japanese and representatives of Japanese corporations who participated in the forum as speakers including Carlos Ghosn (President and Chief Executive Officer, Nissan Motor Co. Limited), Junichi Ujiie (President and Chief Executive Officer, Nomura Holdings Inc.), Nobuyuki Idei (Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Sony Corporation), Heizo Takenaka (Minister for Economic and Fiscal Policy and for Financial Services), Haruo Shimada, (Professor of Economics Keio University) and Sadako Ogata (Former High Commissioner for Refugees, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Scholar in Residence, Ford Foundation).

However, I have witnessed several top Japanese executives lament about the fact that their influence in the WEF and in related debates was miniscule and in need of amplification. They lamented about the fact that the US had at minimum 38 sessions dedicated to it. They also complained about the fact that no Japanese companies were on the WEF "Strategic Partner" list. According to the WEF website, "Strategic Partners are select member companies of the Foundation who strongly support the Forum's commitment to improving the state of the world. They are actively involved in the Foundation's endeavors at the global, regional and industry levels. They contribute their expertise and resources at the highest level in order to advance worldwide economic and social progress". They also have a say in the program and in who is invited. Neither do there exist any Japanese firms among the WEF's "Annual Meeting Partners".

Another question, however, is whether talk at the WEF really represents debate. Perhaps its simply consensus building among the worlds richest. However, when we turn to the issue of Japanese participation at the Third World Socialist Forum (which tends to lead debate on economic and social issues), Japan's presence was virtually non-existent. There were no Japanese panelists or speakers at the WSF. While there were participants from ATTAC Japan, the National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren), academics, and media sources, their voices did not resonate beyond the confines of the various committees that these representatives attended.

The question is why, despite its economic might, is Japan's presence in economic forums of global significance weak? The answer may have to do with Japan's consensus driven society which tends to drown out voices of dissidence, or its tendency to deal with problems on a case by case basis. International NGO's and movements such as Oxfam, Greenpeace, Amnesty International and ATTAC all have regional branches in Japan and have attempted, without much success, to tap into and mobilize the highly educated Japanese population. It is not accurate to state that debate does not take place in Japan, for it does. Rather, unlike most Western societies, Japanese debate has focused on domestic issues and often hesitates to meddle in the affairs of others. While this explanation is far from complete, it is evident that Japan has to step up in offering the world advice and perspective. Leaders of all levels in Japan have to take part in debates of global importance. As is apparent by sifting through the material available on our website (, there are a plethora of opinion leaders in Japan who have much to say about the domestic and global economy. Their views are valued when heard and their experience is esteemed. Japanese have a unique perspective on development, security and other issues and need to step up their efforts and be more active in all forums, including the WEF and the WSF.

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