In a world increasingly fragmented by U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda, Japan should take on the role as the world’s new “stabilizer” by committing to the landmark Paris accord on climate change and keeping a multilateral trade regime from falling apart in the absence of the United States, according to experts who gathered at a Tokyo conference earlier this week.
The annual G1 Global Conference, held at Globis University in Tokyo, examined Japan’s shifting roles on the global stage on the heels of an intensifying trade war between the U.S. and China that its panelists said has thrown the international order into disarray.
The conference held Sunday invited experts on fields including security, energy and technology — as well as social entrepreneurs and business executives — to discuss a “fractured world” caused by the rise of protectionism, the shift in Asian geopolitics and potential threats stemming from the advent of artificial intelligence.
With the election of Trump in 2016, “many tensions in the U.S. that had existed beforehand became much more evident,” former U.S. Democratic member of congress Jane Harman told the all-English conference, titled “Connecting a Fractured World.” The Japan Times was a media partner for the event.
Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris climate accord, she said, has alienated the U.S. and undercut its international reputation as the supporter of regional alliances, creating a vacuum that only Japan can now step in and fill.
“A signal has been sent that the world order that was being constructed that I thought — as a protrade democrat — was good for the world and good for U.S. business and U.S. workers is changing,” Harman said.
“But the good news is Japan stepped up, and Japan really is the stabilizer of this trade regime, which if the U.S. had stayed in it, I think would have performed as a buffer to some of China’s advances.”
Panelists lauded Tokyo for the pivotal role it played in saving the TPP after Trump’s sudden pullout, but they say Japan can do more when it comes to climate change.
The Paris accord encourages all parties to formulate long-term strategies to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Japan and Italy are the only two Group of Seven countries that have yet to submit their plans.
“I’m a bit embarrassed about it,” said Hiromichi Mizuno, executive managing director of the Government Pension Investment Fund.
With Japan slated to host the annual Group of 20 summit next year in Osaka, its first time chairing the group, the nation needs to set a “very ambitious goal” and “play a key leadership role to (promote) the climate and sustainability agenda,” Mizuno said.
A good part of the symposium was also spent discussing the potential threat posed by AI, which is “kind of scary but totally inevitable,” noted Tom Kelley of global design and innovation firm IDEO.
Instead of letting AI run wild, Kelley said it’s essential to find a way to “humanize” robots and use them to “connect people as opposed to separate or isolate people.”
An aging Japan, he said, provides a perfect testing ground.
Kelley, also founding partner and chairman of Japan-based venture capital firm Design for Ventures, said his company is most interested in the “intersection” between technology and care for the elderly.
A graying population is “a big social issue in Japan and it’s also a big business opportunity here. … There are lots of opportunities out there from monitoring diagnosis or communication, or even, you know, companionship at some level,” Kelley said.
“If you’re going to create new products and services for the elderly, I would argue Japan is the best place in the world to do that.”