While the world watches Japan’s on-again, off-again economic recovery, a forum of roughly 200 corporate decision-makers and former government officials has discussed how to turn that attention to the nation’s advantage.

The G1 Global Conference 2015, which took place at Tokyo-based MBA school Globis University on Sunday, was decidedly upbeat about prospects, with the university’s president saying Japan’s international profile is on the rise thanks to progress toward recovery under the government’s “Abenomics” economic reforms.

Yoshito Hori referred to the event’s title, “From ‘Japan Passing’ to ‘Japan Rushing’ ” in explaining where on the road the nation now stands.

With the bursting of the stock and land prices bubble and the entry into a prolonged downturn in the early 1990s, what occurred was “Japan passing” — a lot of foreign companies and investors started to bypass it and focused instead on emerging markets such as China, Hori said.

“After Abenomics, people started to come to Japan,” he said. “We call it ‘Japan rushing’ — lots of investors coming in, and lots of tourists coming in.”

The increasing attention was apparent in the attendance at the conference this year, which was held in English and drew around 200 prominent investors, politicians, academics and entrepreneurs from all around the world — a record number.

The government’s ongoing efforts toward economic recovery have driven increased traffic to Japan, as reflected in soaring numbers of foreign visitors, said Heizo Takenaka, economic and fiscal policy minister from 2001 to 2005 under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Takenaka told a plenary session that when he was in the Cabinet 10 years ago he “proposed to double the foreign visitors … and many people didn’t believe” this was possible.

“But two years ago, (the number) exceeded 10 million. … Last year, 13 million people visited Japan. And this year, maybe 17 million people will visit Japan,” said the current Keio University professor.

Moderated by former BBC World News presenter Nik Gowing, the plenary session also featured Jesper Koll, CEO of asset management firm WisdomTree Japan, and Hiromicho Mizuno, Executive Managing Director and CIO for the Government Pension Investment Fund.

Despite increasing levels of international attention, the panelists agreed that domestic and international investors still underestimate Japan’s investment value due to lingering skepticism and a lack of confidence in its potential for sustainable growth.

“The keyword of today will be ‘reset’ — reset economic discussion,” Takenaka said, adding that what is needed is for economic policy discussions to follow the lengthy debate about security policy that has dominated the Diet agenda in recent months.

Although business-oriented, the conference also touched on geopolitics, culture and technology.

In a breakout session titled “The Future of the Middle East,” the first time the conference has focused on the Arab world, discussions centered on the region’s ongoing travails.

The collapse of state systems following the Arab Spring uprisings in 2010 has left civilians in a socioeconomic quagmire, leading many to remember the occasion as the “Arab Winter,” said panel member Bassem Awadallah, a former Jordanian minister of finance and CEO of Dubai-based consultancy Tomoh Advisory.

“This failure of the state has led to the emergence and the growth of terrorist groups like ISIS — Daesh — in the area which has taken advantage of the failure of the state and expanded in terms of influence and expanded in terms of territory,” Awadallah said, using acronyms for the Islamic State militant group.

Panelist Faisal J. Abbas, editor-in-chief of Arabic-language TV broadcaster Al Arabiya News, said Japan needs to be more involved in peacekeeping in the Middle East as a part of the international community, not just as a cash aid provider.

“I hate to speak absolute terms like good guys and bad guys, but if the good guys are not going to be there, then the bad guys are going to come in,” Abbas said.

“It’s about time that the international community do something. By doing something, it’s certainly not just bombing them from the air,” harming innocent people indiscriminately in the process and giving terrorists a reason to continue their activities, he added.

The conflict in the Middle East has been much discussed in Japan this year after two Japanese hostages — journalist Kenji Goto and self-styled security contractor Haruna Yukawa — were executed by Islamic State militants in Syria.

G1 Global Conference was launched in 2011, after the Tohoku quake and tsunami, to discuss national and international challenges in the aftermath of the disaster. G1 stands for “Group of One, Globe is One.”


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