Commentary / Japan

Globalism in need of revival

by Shinji Fukukawa

Lately globalism is beginning to wobble. The feud between the West and Russia continues over the issue of Ukraine and no settlement is in sight. Bitter civil war and failure of governance persist in the Islamic world, where the Arab Spring pro-democracy movement has failed and the Islamic State is in a situation close to lawlessness. Civil war is also rampant in Africa. The threat of terrorism is expanding while some countries aim to develop nuclear arms and expand military strength.

As for the background of these developments, it can be pointed out that the leadership of the United States as the linchpin of the world order has declined, causing multi-polarization and making it more difficult to keep order. In fact, the U.N. Security Council has become unable to take effective measures to settle disputes due to a clash of views among its permanent members.

The role for maintaining world economic order has shifted from the Group of Eight to the Group of 20, but the expansion of member countries has made it difficult to achieve agreement on effective policy measures despite many meetings being held. Appropriate public control is essential to ensure the smooth operations of markets but, as seen in the latest euro crisis, many governments tend to be influenced so much by moves in markets that they often adopt populist policies. Consequently, excessive liquidity has been injected into their economies, raising the risk of market speculation. In addition, technological innovations tend to remain stagnant.

As for oil market conditions, the possibility cannot be ruled out that a crisis might occur as a result of political turmoil in the Middle East. Natural-gas market conditions are likely to be influenced greatly by Russian strategy. Confidence in nuclear power has fallen and the development of new energy resources is facing limits in terms of capacity and costs. As the recent abnormal climate shows, global warming continues, triggering concerns about ecological destruction, land degradation, expansion of communicable diseases, and water and food shortages.

I wonder if globalism might fade away like a light snow in spring. Globalism is an ideal system that mankind acquired at long last by overcoming such ideological conflicts as the rise of nationalism and the Cold War in the 20th century.

My view is that the movement of broad-range innovations, that is, “global innovation,” should be promoted with a view to firmly establishing globalism. To achieve it, what should be done?

In the first place, people around the world should share a desire to establish globalism. The establishment of peace, the vitalization of the economic activities and the improvement of living conditions are essential to set humanitarianism in place and raise human values. For the leaders of all nations to have this awareness and for people the world over to share it as a common opinion should be the first step forward.

It is no longer possible for some particular countries alone to supply international public goods as in the past. It is necessary for major countries to seek for some mechanism designed to jointly provide public goods such as collective security, control of armament and nuclear energy, trading systems, environmental protection, technological development and the setting of various standards.

Second, the frontiers of technology should be expanded. This is an essential task that must be tackled to revive the growth potential of the world economy. At present, new frontiers are opening up through the use of innovative information and communication technology such as cloud data storage and big data. These innovations can be applied to wide-ranging development fields such as life science, medical treatment, health care, artificial intelligence, new energy sources, automated control and smart cities.

Third, it is important to consolidate and expand the globalization of corporate activities. Such an effort would help adjust worldwide disparities and accelerate economic growth globally. For this to happen, it is necessary to expand and firmly establish the market economy and free trade, and boost business activities around the world.

Fourth, cultural activities and personal exchanges need to be stepped up. The improvement of cultural activities, which represent high-level human values, and the promotion of cultural exchanges would contribute to increasing people’s mutual respect and facilitate the progress of globalism. The multi-layer exchange mechanism involving governments and public offices, business enterprises, students and citizens should become the corner stone of global innovation.

Fifth, risk-management mechanisms should be firmly established. This entails stronger efforts to work out effective cooperation mechanisms designed to enhance the capabilities to predict and prevent a crisis or to limit its damage in the event it should happen.

Japan, heavily relying on other countries for markets and a stable supply of resources, food and energy, is unable to maintain the basis of its existence without the promotion of globalism. So this nation should strengthen its relations of trust with other major countries at any cost and persuade the world community to help maintain such relations so globalism can take root.

Luckily, the Japanese have fostered and inherited over time such human values as absorption of foreign cultures, respect for trustful ties, esteem for ethics, the virtues of self-cultivation and education, and symbiosis with nature. This is what I call “Japanability.”

These virtues would surely work effectively to help resolve a host of problems likely to confront the world in the 21st century. On the other hand, Japanese society has such problems as a lockstep mentality, an inward mindset, disregard for communication and a poor ability to appeal to others, especially to people outside Japan.

Without strengthening their advantages as well as getting rid of their disadvantages, the Japanese people will find it difficult to stand at the forefront of global innovation.

Shinji Fukukawa, formerly vice minister of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (now the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) and president of Dentsu Research Institute, is currently senior adviser of the Global Industrial and Social Progress Research Institute.

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