NAGO, Okinawa Pref. — There were times when relations between the European Union and Japan suffered from having a narrow focus, centered on economic matters.

In recent years, the relationship has come to encompass wider areas of concern while the two sides made efforts to increase mutual understanding.

One such effort is the EU-sponsored annual meeting where journalists from EU and Japan can get acquainted with each other and discuss various topics.

The EU held the 15th EU-Japan Journalists’ Conference in Okinawa recently under the grand theme, “Geopolitics in Asia After 11 September 2001.”

Fifteen journalists from the EU, 14 from Japan and 10 speakers gathered at the Bankoku Shinryokan conference hall in Nago, which first gained international exposure as the venue of the Group of Eight summit in 2000.

The issues they discussed ranged from trade and investment, security, democracy and civilization and community concerns in Okinawa.

In his opening remarks, EU Ambassador to Japan Ove Juul Jorgensen pointed to the weight Asia has for the EU.

“What happens in Asia in the coming decades will be decisive for peace and stability in general, and in turn for the global interests of the EU,” he said.

Praising Okinawa, the ambassador said that EU President Romano Prodi’s visit at the time of the G-8 summit led to a much closer relationship between the EU and Okinawa Prefecture.

He disclosed that the EU has established an “Internet twinning project” linking schools in Paris and those in the village of Yomitan on the east coast of Okinawa Island.

The EU is also working to launch an EU Association in Okinawa, he said.

Jorgensen said that Okinawa has a “particularly rich history that illustrates the complexities of Asian history and provides an appropriate backdrop for the theme” of the conference.

While expressing hope that Japan will take a constructive leadership role in Asia, he stressed the importance of Japan “coming to terms with its past and seeking a full reconciliation with its neighbors” as the foundation for taking such a premier role.

“Perhaps, lying behind the European approach to challenges of Asia, explicitly or implicitly, is our own experience of reconciliation and reconstruction through integration,” Jorgensen said.

Turning to the role of China, a key player in Asia and the potential economic and political superpower, he posed this question: “Will economic reform be followed by political reform? If so, will it be a hard or a soft landing?”

Question of integration

Former Foreign Minister Taro Nakayama, in his keynote speech, tackled the question of whether Asia can achieve integration as Europe had long done.

He pointed out that while the European countries share many things — an almost common religion, Christianity; a relatively equal standard of living; a tradition of liberal democracy that confronted the threat of communism; and a strong political leadership for postwar reconciliation and cooperation — Asian countries lack what in effect are common grounds.

To overcome poverty is still an important political goal for many Asian countries, he said.

Asian countries’ push for economic development will lead to an increased dependency on oil from the Middle East, and one cannot rule out a conflict over energy resources, he said.

Issues surrounding oil transport and its routes may develop into serious security issues, he added.

Because expansion of industrialization among Asian countries can spawn air pollution problems, attention will be turned to development and use of natural gas, a cleaner energy source, deposited in Sakhalin and Siberia, he added.

As for China, Nakayama predicted the advent of a “fourth revolution,” in the country, to follow the third revolution brought about by President Jiang Zemin, the second by the late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping and the first by Mao Zedong.

About 100,000 children of cadre members of the Chinese Communist Party who are studying in the United States will eventually return to China and occupy important positions, thus further accelerating liberalization of the country, he explained.

This process in China will help the country and Japan build up complementary relations and avoid hostile relations, he said.

In order to help increase industrial integration in Asia through trade, Nakayama proposed establishing what he termed as an Asian Industrial Standard.

Under the system, standardized parts will make the assembly process easier than they are today because parts from any origin can be used.

Yasukuni shrine issue

Touching on the issue of reconciliation between Japan and its Asian neighbors, Nakayama said that the problem of Yasukuni Shrine, where not only the ordinary war dead but also Class-A war criminals including the wartime Prime Minister Hideki Tojo are enshrined, must be solved at any cost.

“Japan should send to its neighbors a strong signal that it will never again become a militarist nation,” he said.

He proposed that Japan offer money to construct a permanent venue for discussions among the member nations of the ASEAN Regional Forum, composed of the ASEAN member nations and several other regions and countries including the EU, the U.S., Japan, China, South Korea and Russia.

The site will be dedicated to dialogue and consultations on political and security issues of common interest and concern, serving as something like as mini-United Nations in the Asia-Pacific region, he said.

During the discussion on trade and investment, several Japanese journalists pointed out that media in general have the tendency to focus on the negative side of globalization — particularly on the crisis faced by inefficient industry hit by cheap imports.

“Because the benefits from global trade are spread out thin, it is difficult for developing countries to feel the benefits, while it is easy for them to feel the blow being dealt by the global trade system to their local industries,” Yasuhiro Nagasaki, senior correspondent of NHK, said.

“Media must stress that a large number of people are reaping benefits from global trade.”

Isao Yamamoto, editorial writer of Nihon Keizai Shimbun, said that economically, Japan is now facing the biggest crisis in 50 years.

Saying that Japan’s strong points are not in the service or financial sectors, he suggested that Japan concentrate its effort on nurturing technology-intensive manufacturing.

To develop new technology, Japan needs to maintain a certain number of production bases at home, he said.

North Korean policy

Glyn Ford from Britain, a Labour member of the European Parliament, explained the EU’s engagement policy toward the North Korea, which has resulted in 13 European countries opening diplomatic ties with the closed country. Today, only France and Ireland are without diplomatic ties with Pyongyang.

Although he calls North Korea an “unpleasant regime,” he said that its collapse would cause enormous problems, such as a large influx of refugees and starvation of 2 or 3 million people in two or three years.

Ford said that North Korea’s military intention and capability have been overestimated and misrepresented.

Both CIA and Beijing believe that North Korea has zero to only five nuclear weapons, he said, adding that its missiles are unreliable and that the regime has not yet tested long-range missiles tipped with warheads.

The EU is unhappy with the U.S.’s missile defense project, if not opposed to it, because it would have the effect of China shifting more capital to the military, he also said.

U.S. unilateralism

Yoshikazu Shiohira, senior writer of The Ryukyu Shimpo, criticized U.S. unilateralism, saying that the United States is ‘turning back the clock.” He cited U.S. withdrawal from the Treaty on the Limitation of Antiballistic Missile Systems (the ABM treaty) and the Kyoto protocol to help reduce global warming, as well as the Bush administration’s attempt to nullify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

“If the U.S. relies too much on military action under the name of exterminating terrorism, the world’s situation will become more complicated,” he said.

“It is desirable that Japan and the EU jointly exercise influence on U.S. policy.”

Again on North Korea, several Japanese journalists pointed out that with the recent spy ship incident and the alleged abduction of Japanese nationals, North Korea is further isolating itself.

If North Korea continues to pursue a provocative policy toward Japan, it will be difficult for the Japanese public to support normalization of ties with North Korea, they said.

Koji Kawamura, commentator of TV Asahi, said despite many problems standing in the way of normal bilateral relations, it is important for Japan to “settle the accounts of the past” with North Korea as soon as possible.

Ryosei Kokubun, professor at Keio University, said that “choking North Korea” would be a dangerous thing to do. To ease the tension with the country, he proposed that Japan ask EU to serve as its “window” toward North Korea.

He also proposed that the U.S., EU and Japan create a channel through which they can jointly discuss issues related to North Korea.

On China, Kokubun pointed to the lopsidedness of its economic growth — the gap between the inland region and the coastal region and the gap between the countryside and the urban areas.

“Coastal areas like Shanghai are growing in an explosive way. But China as a whole are facing various problems,” he said.

“The unemployment rate in the inland regions is 15 percent. The situation is especially bad in agricultural villages. In China, deflation and growth are juxtaposed to each other,” he said.

Despite its seemingly high growth rate of about 7 percent, China’s growth rate has been on the decline and the growth is propped by investment in public works, he said.

He also called attention to China’s high dependency on foreign markets for its economic growth. While China’s GDP stood at US$1.19 trillion in 2001, its exports amounted to US$241.6 billion that year.

Half of China’s exports come from companies affiliated with foreign capital, Kokubun pointed out.

As to the issue of reconciliation between Japan and its neighbors over Japan’s colonial past and wartime behavior, Kokubun said that Chinese and Koreans tend to look at Japan through its pre-1945 image and at the same time, Japanese tend to look at China and Korea through their old images.

Ambassador Jorgensen chimed in and said that Japan needs “special measures” to change the image that persists among its neighbors.

On the China-U.S. relations, Kokubun said that if the Taiwan issue is solved, the U.S. missile defense would not be an obstacle in enhancing the relations.

Dionysian orientation

Speaking on the theme of “Democracy and Civilization,” Yasushi Akashi, former United Nations Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, took a cue from Ruth Benedict’s “Patterns of Culture” and said that the cultural orientation of the present Japan, with its high per capita income surpassing many European countries, is “Dionysian” — i.e., characterized by a strong desire to enjoy life and escape from difficult issues.

Touching on democracy, Akashi said, “There is no such a thing as perfect or standard democracy.”

But democracy is a useful procedure to solve conflicts, he said, adding that its principle is “sanctity of life and respect for individual dignity.”

Stressing the importance of “conflict prevention” in the international scene, Akashi said that a “certain minimum standard of behavior or minimum ethic” should be established for the 21st century.

About media and democracy, he said that the media play an “indispensable role in informing and educating people.”

But he said that the media are often plagued with sensationalism, commercialism, oversimplification of complex issues, self-righteousness and too sharp a distinction between good and evil.

Philippe Ries, Tokyo correspondent of Agence France-Presse, called attention to the corruption hampering the functioning of democracy.

Corruption leads to skepticism, apathy and in some cases, populism, and serves as an impediment to changes and structural reforms, he said.

Press club system

Several European journalists took issue with Japan’s press club system.

Tadashi Tominaga, deputy editor of Asahi Shimbun’s Economic News Department, said that the local press clubs have started to open up to foreign journalists although the process is not yet complete.

These days, Japanese media cannot win competition, especially with foreign media, if they solely rely on information obtained at press clubs, he said.

Investigative reporting has become the standard approach, he added.

Yukihiro Hasegawa, editorial writer of Tokyo Shimbun, said that Japan’s press clubs are, in a sense, public and transparent in that foreign media can apply for membership in them.

He wondered if impenetrable “inner circles” do not exist at the White House or at 10 Downing Street.

Several Japanese journalists emphasized that the posture and attitude of individual reporters, rather than their affiliation or nonaffiliation with press clubs, determine the quality of their news reports.

Buruma on culture

Speaking on the same theme as Akashi, Ian Buruma — an author whose books include “The Wages of Guilt: Memories of War in Germany and Japan,” and “Bad Elements: Among the Rebels, Dissidents, and Democrats of Greater China” — said that although there are Japanese culture, Korean culture, Chinese culture, etc., there is no such a thing as Asian culture.

He called the concept of Asian culture a “rubbish” and said that it is “used as an apology to sustain an authoritarian system” as seen in in various parts of Asia.

Adopting an functional approach to democracy, Buruma said that “democracy is an institution that peacefully solves conflicts,” and is something “separate from values or culture.”

“All cultures can adopt a democratic institution,” he said.

He also said that the Japanese concept of wa (harmony) is “not very democratic” because it “relies on an authoritarian hierarchy.”

Under the slogan “We are like a family,” voices of dissent is oppressed, he said.

In contrast, democracy accepts different values and ideas, he said.

In the Japanese system, politicians promise wealth to everybody but people are told not to meddle in politics, he said.

He added that a political system based on economic expansion is highly vulnerable.

Commenting on Buruma’s concepts, Akashi said that democracy is not simply a means to achieve goals and solve conflicts through representation.

“It is based on moral insights into human rights, not simply an institutional device,” he said.

Takenori Oku, editorial writer of Mainichi Shimbun, opined that to some extent, democracy is a function of the gross domestic product.

“Isn’t it that unless a certain amount of of GDP is produced and middle class is born, democracy cannot come into being?” he asked.

But Buruma said that “Have a middle class first” and “Wealth before democracy” are simply the wrong ideas. “However rich or poor (people or a country may be), democracy can solve conflicts peacefully,” he said.

He also said that although Indian democracy is not functioning perfectly, it is a big success because what happened in China, like the great famine under Mao’s rule, did not and cannot happen in India.

Credit to democracy

Kokubun said that the fact that Japan has not taken any military action after World War II should be attributed more to Japan’s democratic system than to the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution itself.

After 15 years of experience of democracy, South Korea has come to accept different ideas and to look at Japan more objectively than in the past, he also said.

Chinese society has abandoned its socialist precepts and values and economic growth has become China’s only value, resembling Japan of 1964, when the Olympic Games were held in Tokyo, he said.

On the theme of community concerns in Okinawa, Tsuneo Oshiro, economics professor at the University of the Ryukyus, pointed to a gap between the fact that China and other Asian countries appreciate the U.S. military presence as a stabilizing factor in Asia and the Okinawan people’s perception that they are discriminated against by having the heaviest concentration of U.S. military bases in their prefecture.

Because of the U.S. military presence in Okinawa, the island prefecture has an added claim to legitimacy in proposing that Okinawa serve as a venue for discussions among various countries to help solve conflicts in the Asia-Pacific region.

He said that something like an Asia-Pacific Island Studies Center can be set up in Okinawa to promote such discussions.

Eiko Asato and Etsuko Takushi, both journalists from Okinawa, pointed to a perception gap between Okinawans and people outside Okinawa — including Japanese in main islands and Americans — concerning problems posed by the U.S. military, such as rape and other crimes by U.S. soldiers and environmental disruption caused by the bases.

While these are big problems threatening Okinawans’ lives, people outside tend to look at them as localized problems, they said.

Riese of AFP proposed: “Play up dugongs!” — referring to the rare sea mammals, some of which are living in the sea off the Henoko area of Nago. If a U.S. military heliport is built there, it is feared that the mammals in the area may become extinct.

Capturing this mammal is prohibited under the Washington Convention — an international treaty on the protection of endangered species. And it is possible to get worldwide attention by calling attention to the danger posed to the mammals by the planned military construction, Riese said.

But Asato said, “The dugong is not the only issue that has to be solved.”

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.