NAKANISHI Hiroshi: At the end of last year, on December 19th, news broke that Secretary-General Kim Jong-il, the leader of North Korea, had died on December 17th.What action did you take?
GEMBA Koichiro: I was in Washington, D.C. in the United States at the time, but I was notified by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo that North Korea would transmit a “special broadcast” from noon Japan time on the 19th, so I instructed the Vice-Minister to take adequate measures, including information gathering. In addition, after the announcement of the death of Commander-in-chief Kim Jong-il, I once again instructed the Vice-Minister to reinforce the information-gathering activity and to make absolutely sure nothing was omitted so that we could respond to any situation. Vice-Minister Yamane reported these instructions to Prime Minister Noda at a meeting of the Security Council of Japan held on that day.
Nakanishi: What is your analysis of the recent state of affairs in North Korea?
Gemba: At present there is no telling what the impact of the death of Commander-in-chief Kim Jong-il will be, but it is important to prevent the present situation from havingan adverse impact on peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.
In addition, close cooperation between all countries concerned and levelheaded responses are also necessary to link the present situation to a resolution of both the nuclear missile problem and the abduction problem. This year, North Korea is planning celebratory events to mark the 70th birthday of Commander-in-chief Kim Jong-il on February 16th, and the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung on April 15th, so we will continue to keep a close watch on trends in North Korea.
Nakanishi: Japan had opportunities to exchange views at an extremely early stage with government officials in both the United States and China at a Japan-US meeting of foreign ministers, and at a summit meeting between Japan and China.
Gemba:On the very day after the announcement of the death of Commander-in-chief Kim Jong-il, I met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a meeting of foreign ministers where we exchanged in-depth views on the state of affairs in North Korea. On the following day, December 21st, we also held a conference call between the heads of state of Japan and the United States, and through these two meetings, Japan and the United States shared the recognition that it is important for the current state of affairs not to have an adverse impact on peace and stability on the Korean peninsula, and we confirmed that Japan and the United States, as well as Japan, the United States and South Korea will share information and collaborate closely.
I also had successive conference calls with the foreign ministers of South Korea, China and Russia, and confirmed that these countries would collaborate with each other on the response.
At the end of December, Prime Minister Noda visited China where he met with President Hu Jintao, Chairman Wu Bangguo of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, and Premier Wen Jiabao, and they all came to the understanding that ensuring peace and stability on the Korean peninsula is in the mutual interests of Japan and China, and they agreed on the key point of a levelheaded and appropriate response to the state of affairs.
Nakanishi: In addition to the changes in the situation in North Korea, 2012 is a year when leadership elections and a change of the guard is expected in the key countries and regions in the Asia Pacific, so in terms of politics, it will be an unsettled year. When you look ahead to this year, what points would you like to emphasize and where would you like to take Japanese diplomacy?
Gemba:To start with, I would like to properly take over the results of the work done by other foreign ministers under the Democratic Party of Japan administrations. Mr. Okada worked hard on nuclear disarmament including the launch of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI), and he was also proactive about information disclosure. The economic diplomacy of Mr. Maehara and the post-disaster recovery and reconstruction initiatives of Mr. Matsumoto are still making steady progress.
In addition, I would like to focus my efforts on practicing what in English is referred to as “substantial” diplomacy. To do so, there are two directions I would like to point out. One is to expand network diplomacy, and the other is to break away from inward-looking goals for Japan.
The network diplomacy concept is based on recognition that the protagonists in present-day international politics are diversifying. No longer a matter only for sovereign nations, but corporations and NGOs, and as we have seen in the Arab Spring, solidarity among individuals also serve an important purpose. I would like to create an “open and multi-tiered network” that is suited to a time when people who want to participate can get engaged.
We have already taken concrete measures in regard to the second direction of breaking away from inward-looking goals. First, we will increase the amount of overseas development aid (ODA). Over the past 14 years, ODA has been halved, but the budget for fiscal 2012 marks the start of a reversal by increasing the budget for grant aid.
Next, we have participation in the United Nations peacekeeping operations (PKO) and at this time, we have dispatched personnel to South Sudan. Japan has an obligation to contribute to the peace and prosperity of the international community while building up our own national interests and the international public good, and providing a high quality of personnel is one of Japan’s areas of specialty. In addition, at the end of last year, standards were set for transferring defense equipment overseas, opening up the path for more proactive and effective engagement with international peacekeeping operations.
We are also implementing the KIZUNA Project as an initiative to contribute to “a recovery open to the world” for the Great East Japan Earthquake through youth exchanges with North America and the Asia Pacific region. I believe initiatives like this one will also inspire a reversal of a situation where the number of exchange students going to North America has halved in the past ten years.
In addition, in terms of economic cooperation, we have entered into consultations with the relevant countries with the aim of participating in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). There is a need to promote economic collaboration at a high level with a focus on the Asia-Pacific region.
Nakanishi: The relationships with the United States and China are probably the most important ones for Japanese diplomacy. What is your focus in terms of the relationship with these two countries?
Gemba: To start with, the premise is that we must create an affluent and stable order supported by democratic values in the Asia Pacific. This is an essential element for Japan’s national interests.
In terms of what must be done, first of all, we will make the Japan-US alliance rock solid, and we will also deepen the strategic and reciprocal relationship with China. It is important for both China and Japan to deepen economic relationships while playing a constructive role with regard to regional and global issues. At a time when networks and rules for the region are under construction, how do we ensure strategic stability between the three countries of Japan, United States and China? We are entering an extremely important period.
This is precisely why there is a need to develop substantial network diplomacy. In addition to the conventional bilateral diplomacy, we would like to utilize multilateral frameworks such as the Japan-US-Korea, Japan-China-Korea, Japan-US-Australia or Japan-US-India frameworks.
I would also like to think that the time has come for launching a trilateral dialog between Japan, the United States and China. For example, the oceans are a public good, and we have been calling for countries to work together to create shared ideas and to make the rules for responding to environmental pollution, anti-piracy measures or search and rescue operations. The participation of China is essential in order to give these issues substance.
Nakanishi: Is the dialog between Japan, the United States and China becoming more comprehensive than the previous focus somewhere between security guarantees and the economy?
Gemba: I think that would be good. It would be good to start with broad themes and formats that are easy to launch.
Nakanishi: I would also like to ask your opinion about bilateral issues. Why is it that the Futenma relocation issue is so contentious for the US-Japan relations?
Gemba: On that point, we are working hard to lessen the burden on Okinawa soon and as much as possible, while maintaining the deterrent force and keeping the Japan-US alliance on a rock solid footing.
At the meeting of the foreign ministers of Japan and the United States in December last year, I confirmed with Secretary of State Clinton that the reorganization of the US forces in Japan, including the relocation of the Futenma airfield and the transfer of Marines stationed in Okinawa to Guam, is still proceeding according to the agreement between Japan and the United States. On my part, I conveyed to them the importance of lessening the burden on Okinawa and on this point, I requested the collaboration of the United States.
However, I would like to add that it is not good to focus only on the reorganization of the United States Army in Japan whenever we think about the US-Japan alliance. There are various issues in the US-Japan alliance including the sharing of roles, missions and capabilities (RMC) of both Japan and the United States, planning, missile defense, extended deterrence, space and cyberspace issues, so we must always keep a perspective on how we portray the overall picture.
Nakanishi: How are relations between Japan and China?
Gemba: We need to improve the national sentiment on both sides to build the kind of mature relationship between Japan and China where we participate together in drawing up the rules for the Asia Pacific and deepen our mutual relationships. Since this year marks the 40th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties between Japan and China, we must make good use of the occasion to deepen cultural and personal exchanges. There is still not enough information available at the level of the citizens.
To give one example of cultural exchange, I visited China in November last year to meet with Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo. Since there are extremely limited opportunities to watch overseas television programs and films within China, I requested at the time that they make it easier for Chinese people to freely watch good programs from Japan. Manga, for example, is also extremely popular in China. I would also like for Japanese people to have more opportunities to come into contact with works from China. That’s my thinking.
Nakanishi: How would you evaluate Prime Minister Noda’s visit to China on December 25th and 26th last year?
Gemba: The visit last year included the discussion about the situation in North Korea that I mentioned before, and there was also agreement on major points such as promoting wide-ranging cooperation and exchange including regional and global issues, and not only bilateral relations, based on a statement by Prime Minister Noda announcing six initiatives to further deepen the “Mutually Beneficial Relationship based on Common Strategic Interests” on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and China. I think it was very successful and with the 40th anniversary coming up, it was also a very significant visit to China.
Nakanishi: In addition to the United States and China, are there any other countries in the Asia Pacific where you focus diplomatic relations?
Gemba: We are focusing on Australia and India, which we might say form a strategic quadrangle together with the United States and China.
Prime Minister Noda visited India at the end of last year and formed a consensus with Prime Minister Singh on the reinforcement of a strategic global partnership. In terms of politics and security guarantees, they agreed to strengthen cooperation in the area of maritime safety guarantees and there were many specific results from the economic aspect as well, such as infrastructure cooperation, expanding the bilateral currency swap, and rare earths.
Then there is the ASEAN. After a visit to Korea on my first overseas trip after taking office as Foreign Minister, I visited the ASEAN countries of Singapore, Malaysia as well as Indonesia, which held the ASEAN presidency at the time. I was planning to visit Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia at the end of December, but because of the situation in North Korea, I only visited Myanmar. The heads of state of the Philippines and Vietnam have traveled to Japan. So, I am cooperating closely with all the countries.
The visit to Myanmar was a major turning point as it had been nine years since a ministerial level visit. In talks with key government officials, I requested that Myanmar cement the democratization and national reconciliation process, including further releases of political prisoners, and I confirmed that we would continue to cooperate in the four areas of personal exchange, economic cooperation, economy and cultural exchange to support the reforms. I also talked with Aung San Suu Kyi, explaining the thinking in Japan and inviting her to visit Japan. After that, on January 12th, a ceasefire was agreed with one of the armed ethnic minority groups, and the next day, January 13th, many political prisoners were released. We welcome this kind of progress.
Bilateral relations are important in this region, but it is also important to join together the East Asia Summit (EAS), the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in coordinated ways. The United States and Russia participated for the first time in the EAS meeting held in Bali in November last year. I met with Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty, who drafted the EAS Chairman’s Statement, three times in two months, and we also had exchanges in writing. I think there were some really good results. ASEAN is also important from the viewpoint of economic diplomacy.
Nakanishi: What about the economy? You already mentioned TPP. I think it has been a long time since we had a diplomatic issue that divided public opinion to such a degree. How will you proceed?
Gemba: The population of Japan will fall below 100 million in 2046. For Japan to remain affluent, we have to perceive domestic demand in all the Asia Pacific countries and regions as domestic demand in Japan, and aggressively launch ourselves overseas. Participating in the TPP negotiations, Japan has displayed a forward-looking attitude, and the free trade agreement (FTA) between Japan, China and Korea has also started to move. So far, Japan has concluded three FTA including one with Peru, which will take effect shortly, but unfortunately, when you look at the tariff classification breakdown (tariff line),the rate of liberalization for all agreements is below 90%. We need economic cooperation on a higher level.
Nakanishi: On the other hand, you also need to persuade the public at home.
Gemba: There is no question of the importance of the government providing citizens with any information it holds in a manner that is clear and well organized. As you know, we must have the agreement of the participating countries to enter into the TPP negotiations. However, countries differ in their outlooks on what constitutes agreement. Because of relations with Congress in the United States, the President’s Office is still complying with the rule under the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) that the President must give at least 90 days advance notice to Congress when starting trade negotiations even though the TPA expired in 2007. In addition, since President Obama must complete a measure of adjustments before notifying Congress, so they may as well call it “consultation,” but the de-facto consultations will probably begin before too long.
Then, we must separate out the issues that must be settled through bilateral consultation before the TPP negotiations, the issues that must be discussed at the TPP negotiations, and the issues where bilateral consultation should continue parallel with the TPP negotiations. It is complicated, but it is necessary to develop detailed negotiations. Depending on the country, I think some pending problems are also coming to light. However, it is important to quickly clear bilateral consultations as much as possible in advance.
In any case, Japan will hold to its independence, achieve what must be achieved, and protect what must be protected. Finally, to win the agreement of the participating countries, it would be prudent to identify where concessions can be won in the negotiations without creating lists of negatives from the start.
Nakanishi: The Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP17) was held in Durban, South Africa in December. You have a long-held interest in environmental problems. What are your thoughts on Japan’s global warming initiatives for the Kyoto protocol post 2013?
Gemba: The current protocol does not include China and the United States who account for roughly 40% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. This is neither effective nor fair. So, it is Japan’s goal to work hard to create a legal framework that is both fair and effective, and includes all the main producers of greenhouse gases. In the sense that a certain kind of reasoning led to the targets, we believe that we have achieved some results. It is also important not to leave a vacuum for action. Since the reasoning is there, each country, including the United States and China, should do what must be done of their own accord.
Japan is also proposing the East Asia Low Carbon Growth Partnership, and we plan to hold an international conference in Japan in April 2012. As a system to supplement the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)under the Kyoto Protocol, we are also advocating bilateral offset credits. In short, when Japan provides energy-saving technologies to a partner country, the resulting greenhouse gas reduction in that country count toward Japan’s share of the contributions. We need to devote more effort toward gaining international recognition for this scheme.
Nakanishi: Some time ago, you made a very powerful statement about ODA. Are there any countries and issues you would like to focus on?
Gemba: First of all, Asia is important. For example, at the recent Japan-ASEAN summit meeting, Prime Minister Noda announced assistance on a scale of two trillion yen when the public and private sectors are combined to strengthen connectivity in the ASEAN based on the pillars of a “land corridor” and “sea corridor” program and “soft infrastructure” services. There is robust infrastructure demand in Asia. In addition, since Japan’s energy saving technologies are attracting attention worldwide, we would like to find the best way to a win-win situation of making strategic use of ODA to answer the demand while plowing some of the outcome back into Japan.
Of course, Asia is not the only place. We are already keeping our public commitment to expand major assistance in Africa and Afghanistan. I think we must include Latin America and the Middle East where democracy is gathering pace.
From this viewpoint, I visited Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates early in the new year. With the exception of Turkey, these countries are the three largest suppliers of crude oil to Japan. Seeing the current situation in the Middle East, I requested stable prices and supplies for the crude oil that Japan needs for the reconstruction after the Great East Japan earthquake, and they indicated intention to cooperate. We also agreed with these countries to strengthen cooperation in the field of renewable energy, which is one of Japan’s strong points. I also visited Afghanistan to meet President Karzai to make some specific adjustments to the ministerial conference to be held in Tokyo in July, and I confirmed that President Karzai intends to participate in the conference.
Nakanishi: Lastly, I would like to ask about the structure of diplomacy. The relationship between the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister, as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office has been discussed since the Koizumi years. What are your thoughts on the relationship with Prime Minister Noda?
Gemba: In terms of diplomatic principles, I have always felt that there are extremely strong similarities in the views of Prime Minister Noda and myself. Of course, the important point is to have direct talks, and I often consult with the Vice-Minister and the Prime Minister’s Office to secure agreement. Generally speaking, I think the Prime Minister probably trusts me (laughs).
Something else that is frequently discussed in the context of the diplomatic structure is the National Security Council (NSC). Depending on how it is set up, I believe it would be beneficial. There are two themes. One theme is to investigate a sophisticated and comprehensive security policy for the long term, and the other is to respond swiftly and flexibly to emergency situations. If creating a National Security Council stimulates better collaboration between Cabinet officials on these points, we should move forward. The reality is that such situations are actually surprisingly rare. If we had such an NSC, I think it would be beneficial.
(Written on January 13th based on interviews recorded on December 15.)
Translated from the Special feature: “Nicchutaiwa no toki – ajia-taiheiyo chitsujo to netto waaku gaiko – (Dialog between Japan, United States and China – The Asia Pacific Order and Network Diplomacy),”Diplomacy (Gaiko), Vol.11 (January 2012), pp. 12-21. (Courtesy of Toshishuppan, Publishers)