Japan's Presence in Davos and Porto Alegre
John de Boer (University of Tokyo & GLOCOM Platform)
Attention focused on two cities this past week, one located in the South and the other in the North. While Davos (Switzerland) played host to an exclusive list of 2,300 delegates at the World Economic Forum (WEF), Porto Alegre (Brazil) welcomed over 100,000 who came to participate in the World Social Forum (WSF).
The main theme tackled at the WEF had to do with "building trust". According to its global public opinion survey 48% of those surveyed had no or little trust of multinationals while 52% expressed similar skepticism about large national business. The WEF believes companies and governments should be concerned about these statistics because a "lack of trust leads to weaker business partnerships, higher risks, higher interest rates and lower profit margins" (http://www.weforum.org). The loss of trust was highlighted as one of the main challenges facing constituents supporting the WEF.
In the South, groups and movements from across the globe met in an "open meeting place" under the motto of "another world is possible" with the objective of building "a planetary society centered on the human person" and not on corporate profit (http://www.oneworld.net/specialreports/worldsocialforum/). As was stated by the newly elected Brazilian president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the WSF seeks to reform a global economic system "in which some people eat five times a day and others eat only once every five days".
As the second most powerful economy in the world and as a major donor of overseas development assistance, Japan no doubt has a large role to play in both of these forums. Its presence in the WEF clearly reflects this truth. Japan was featured in seven sessions at the WEF ("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).
While Japan did occupy some space at the WEF, it is also possible to argue that its presence was miniscule in comparison to the attention it deserves. This is particularly so in comparison to the US which had at minimum 38 sessions dedicated to it including ones entitled, "The Impact of US R&D Domination", "US Omnipotence: What Lies Ahead?", "US Foreign Policy: Going It Alone?" and "US Productivity: Miracle or Myth?". Another measure of Japanese influence, or lack thereof, over the forum is evidenced in the fact that no Japanese companies are 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".
In relation to the World Socialist Forum, Japan's presence was virtually non-existent. There were no Japanese panelists or speakers in the Third 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 (www.glocom.org), 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 and need to step up their efforts and be more active in all forums, including the WEF and the WSF. Japan has much to offer and the world is waiting.