Discussions, No.1  Jul. 31, 2010


In a January 2002 speech given in Singapore, Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichirō proposed an economic partnership between Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as the first step toward the creation of an East Asian community. Ever since then, this concept has remained at the core of Japan’s Asia policy. It was reconfirmed again in Prime Minister Kan Naoto’s policy speech delivered on June 11 this year, in which he stated that “Japan is a maritime nation bordering the Pacific Ocean and is at the same time an Asian nation.” Based on this duality, he went on, he intended to maintain Japan’s alliance with the United States as “the cornerstone of our diplomacy” even as he moved to “reinforce our partnerships with Asian countries.” With respect to Japan’s neighboring nations, primarily in Asia, the prime minister pledged: “we will strengthen our relations with them in various fields such as the political, economic and cultural spheres, and in the future we shall seek to bring about an East Asian community.”

There are a variety of reasons that the idea of building an East Asian community has come to occupy such an important position in Japan’s foreign policy strategy. The key among these, though, is that Asia has become a growth center for the global economy, and closer ties between Japan and the region have come to be of decisive significance to Japan’s own prosperity. This is also made clear by the fact that in his June 11 policy speech, Prime Minister Kan listed the Asian economy alongside “green innovation,” “life innovation,” “tourism,” “science and technology,” and “employment and human resources” as the pillars of his New Growth Strategy.

Important Work by the Hatoyama Administration

Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio was attacked, rightly I would say, for his weak leadership and meandering in foreign policy, above all with respect to the issue of US military bases in Okinawa. But if people look back at his administration in the future, they may find that it in fact came up with a set of important policy initiatives to build an East Asian community, even though he did not remain in office long enough to see those initiatives being implemented under his leadership. This was due to the strong political will Prime Minister Hatoyama exercised on the issue of an East Asia community. In his first policy speech before the Diet, given on October 26, 2009, he spoke at length about his vision of an East Asian grouping. He touched on the potential for Japan to help the Asian region with its disaster-prevention technologies, its knowledge and experience in the areas of disaster assistance and recovery, and its networks of disaster-response volunteer organizations. He stated that Japan could help prevent infectious and other diseases like new strains of influenza via its social systems, including its medical technologies and health centers. The policy speech touched on the need to direct fresh energy to cultural exchange programs; to deepen exchange among the next generation of the region’s young people; to drastically expand Japan’s acceptance and dispatch of exchange students; to foster new specialists in the languages and cultures of the region’s nations; to improve the transferability of university credits earned in Japan, South Korea, and China; to work with a long-term perspective to train the human resources that will support East Asian and Asia-Pacific cooperation; and to enrich cooperation in the areas of trade, economic partnerships, economic cooperation, the environment, and “people’s lives and culture.” In this policy speech Hatoyama framed his hopes for “the concept of an East Asian community as a highly transparent cooperative entity . . . open to other regions.”

On March 19, 2010, Hatoyama instructed the members of his cabinet to consider measures in five areas as part of efforts to realize an East Asian community framework: (1) promotion of economic partnerships, (2) regional steps to counter climate change and other environmental issues, (3) cooperation aimed at saving lives, such as disaster-prevention cooperation and disaster response, (4) cooperative work in antipiracy, maritime rescue, and other fields to create “oceans of fraternity,” and (5) enhanced cultural exchange activities including human exchange programs. While some of these measures were already underway, the prime minister stressed the importance of pressing ahead in a broad range of areas with more concrete activities rooted in the concept of “opening Japan” and of giving due consideration to these activities in the process of creating the New Growth Strategy. He further described the East Asian community concept as one requiring the efforts of the entire government, stating that the Cabinet Secretariat would take charge in the crafting of needed measures, a process to be completed by the end of May 2010. And he urged his ministers to look beyond their individual portfolios to act nimbly in proposing bold, constructive measures and putting them into practice.

As has often been pointed out, Japan’s system for policymaking is dispersed among numerous vertically organized ministerial divisions. Many of the medium- and long-term policy packages announced as government strategies are little more than policy measures collected from divisions in various ministries and hastily stapled together. In cases where the prime minister wields strong political will, as Hatoyama did with respect to his East Asian community concept, a centripetal force arises that can overcome the divisions in the country’s fragmented policymaking system. A division’s proposal that becomes part of the policy package assembled by the Cabinet Secretariat enhances the chance for that division to obtain funding in the following fiscal year’s budget. It does not matter if the proposal is one already under consideration; all that matters to the bureaucrats is taking the plans that they want to have implemented, making sure they are in line with the East Asian community concept, and pitching them to the Kantei, the prime minister’s executive office. In this way the concept gains momentum and a policy package created by the government as a whole, through an approach encompassing all the bureaucratic organs, can be achieved.

A Successful Pan-Governmental Approach

On June 2 Hatoyama announced his resignation as prime minister, and on June 8 Kan Naoto took over the office. Immediately preceding this drama, however, on June 1, the Cabinet Secretariat issued its report on future measures to be taken in connection with the East Asian community initiative. As requested by Prime Minister Hatoyama, this policy package was built around five core areas for action. On June 18 the cabinet approved the New Growth Strategy, subtitled “Blueprint for Revitalizing Japan.” This included the Asian economy as one of its seven “strategic areas.” The three strategic goals outlined for this area, to be achieved by 2020, are the creation of a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific; the promotion of domestic reforms in order to reap the benefits of Asian growth, doubling the flows of people, goods, and money into Japan; and the expansion of opportunity for Japanese growth through the doubling of the income of Asia. As part of the domestic reforms meant to bring about an integrated Asian market and double flows of people, goods, and money between Japan and the rest of the world, the New Growth Strategy states: “We will advance the training of Japanese personnel who are able to be active internationally, while promoting university, science and technology, culture, sports, and youth exchange and cooperation with Asian countries and around the world.”

The Cabinet Secretariat released the report on future measures for the East Asian community initiative, while the New Growth Strategy was put together by the National Policy Unit, a body formed within the Cabinet Office in September 2009. The preparation of both of these documents took place at the same time as a range of steps undertaken in the Cabinet Office and ministries.

For instance, the Council for Science and Technology Policy, located in the Cabinet Office, established a science and technology diplomacy task force as part of its drafting of the fourth Science and Technology Basic Plan (to be in effect from fiscal 2011 through 2015). This task force filed its report in February 2010. Although this report nominally has no relation to the report on future measures for the East Asian community initiative, many of its recommendations were made part of the Cabinet Secretariat’s policy package. Another report, to be published soon by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) working group on exchange activities in East Asia, will focus on education, science and technology, culture, and sports and youth exchange, and in particular on ways to nurture the people who can work as members of the East Asian or global community. This working group was already in place on March 19, when Prime Minister Hatoyama issued his directive, but again, many of its recommendations–even before the publication of its own report–have been worked into the Cabinet Secretariat’s report.

As described above, the Hatoyama administration assembled its policy package on the East Asian community initiative in a pan-governmental effort. This resulted in a package that centered on exchange and regional cooperation in areas like education, science and technology, and culture, in addition to cooperation in the areas of economic partnership, human security, and nontraditional security. Let us examine what policy initiatives Japan is now seeking to implement in these fields and what kind of thinking informs these initiatives.

Looking a Decade Ahead

Looking first at the Council for Science and Technology Policy task force’s report, we see that it begins with a projection of scientific and technological conditions in Japan and around the world in 2020. Working backward from there, it sets issues for Japan to address and suggests an international strategy for the nation: a set of specific policies the government should implement to help Japan achieve its goals with respect to those issues.

What will be the state of things in Japan and the rest of the world a decade from now? Japan will likely be unable to avoid a relative decline in its international status due to the rise of China and the other newly emerging countries on the one hand and its own declining birthrate and graying society on the other. In 2006 Japan’s population stood at 127.5 million, with the 34.6 million people aged 20-39 accounting for 27% of the total. In 2020, though, the total will have declined to 123.7 million, while the 20-39 group will number just 26.3 million. In short, by 2020 Japan will see its population in the 20-39 age bracket, the prime period for young researchers to make their mark, drop by fully a quarter from the 2006 level, and these people will account for just 21% of the population of Japan.

The Japanese share of the global economy and global investment in research and development will also fall. If we take a simplified definition of the world economy as the total of the Group of Eight nations and the BRICs, or Brazil, Russia, India, and China, then Japan’s share of the total will fall from 12% in 2008 to just 9% in 2020. At the same time, its R&D investment will shrink from 18% to 14% of the global total. This latter figure could change if Japan adjusts this investment upward as a percentage of its GDP, but even boosting R&D spending from the current 3.86% to 4% of GDP would result only in a lesser drop, internationally speaking, to 16% of the global total. (I will additionally note that China’s share of global R&D spending is projected to climb from its present 11% to 27% by 2020, while the figure for the United States will decline from today’s 47% to 38%.)

These changes will bring about considerable shifts in Japan’s relationship with the rest of the world in scientific and technical fields. Thus far Japan has carried out a two-pronged approach to its international collaboration in these fields, distinguishing between the United States, Europe, and other developed nations on the one hand and developing nations on the other. In its work with the former group, Japan has focused on joint R&D efforts in cutting-edge fields. Its cooperation with the latter group, meanwhile, has been predicated on Japan’s technical superiority and has mainly consisted of technical instruction and technology transfer aimed at contributing to the development of those partner nations. Today, however, the newly emerging countries have come to include members like South Korea, China, and India, which possess scientific and technological prowess to match that of the developed nations. Indeed, some of these nations have burnished their international competitiveness in high-tech fields to such an extent that they are now strong rivals to Japan. Meanwhile, students and researchers from Korea and China have sunk deep roots in Japan’s R&D systems. Korean and Chinese researchers account for fully half of the foreign staff at Japan’s national research organs like RIKEN (the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research) and the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology.

We must also note that by 2020 science and technology will be playing a far greater role in global and regional approaches to issues in fields like the environment, energy, food, drinking water, infectious disease, and disaster mitigation. And developed and developing nations alike will probably be placing more emphasis on investment in scientific and technical innovation in their industrial policies. Viewed from a different angle, this will mean that “brain circulation” will be a major feature of science and technology and that international competition for talented scientists and researchers will become even fiercer.

Building Japanese Platforms for Innovation

What must Japan do to prepare for these changes? The Council for Science and Technology Policy task force’s report recommends three basic policy approaches: (1) attract talented foreign scientists and researchers to Japan and strengthen the nation’s R&D systems; (2) make wide use of the results of Japanese scientific and technological work on the global stage and advance cooperation in scientific and technical fields as part of the East Asian community initiative; and (3) bolster the government’s frameworks for strategic advancement of this kind of international cooperation.

There are a number of measures under consideration for attracting scientists and researchers to Japan and “internalizing” them as resources for the nation. The fundamental measure is to have Japanese universities and research institutions hire talented candidates from anywhere in the world on the basis of their accomplishments in their fields. Other measures include encouraging scientists and researchers to come and go freely, thereby constructing better ties among Japan’s universities and research institutes and their overseas counterparts; crafting frameworks for international cooperation aimed at solving problems confronting all nations within the region; expanding systems that provide better conditions and remuneration for talented scientists and researchers; establishing a new strategic scholarship system; improving the working and living environment for scientists and researchers by providing international education for their children and employment opportunities for their spouses; and providing systemic and budgetary support for international research projects that produce results competitive on the global level in multinational, multicultural research settings, thus fully internationalizing the research environment to help find solutions to environmental, energy, health, and other problems faced in common by East Asian nations.

Another recommendation in this report is for what it provisionally calls the East Asia Science and Technology Area. In the past, the mission of Japan’s government-funded R&D was to find solutions to issues confronting the nation. Many of these issues, however, are facing East Asia as a whole, not just Japan. With respect to them, the report spells out the basic stance that the government should expand its R&D mission, fostering innovation across Asia and promoting the formation of an East Asian community in the scientific and technical fields. Ahead of the establishment of this framework, the report also recommends more joint research in such fields as the environment and energy, food production, environmental observation, infectious disease, and disaster mitigation. In the area of food production, for example, this could include using genetic analysis technology to identify and accumulate information on useful genes, putting them to use in the development of superior strains of rice, sugar cane, and other crops that can thrive in the diverse ecological conditions found in East Asia. It could also involve using satellite observation data, the Global Earth Observation System of Systems, and next-generation geographic information systems to crack down on illegal logging, create maps, track the spread of infectious diseases, or observe atmospheric pollution in major urban areas, as well as the creation of networks of research institutions to better examine highly infectious pathogens like the avian influenza virus and other diseases for which appropriate controls are needed today.

A Focus on Human Resources

Next I turn to the report of the MEXT working group on exchange activities in East Asia. As its Japanese title makes clear, this report focuses in particular on the fostering of human resources, mainly through exchange activities. In contrast with the approach taken by the science and technology diplomacy task force, which began with the situation in 2020 and defined steps to be taken today via backcasting, this working group report takes a look at the present conditions and stresses measures to be taken today in response to them.

What, according to this report, are the present conditions to deal with? Within various existing frameworks for regional cooperation–such as ASEAN+3, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China, Korea, and Japan; the annual East Asia Summit (EAS) forum; and ASEM, the Asia-Europe Meeting–there are increasing calls for intraregional cooperation in the fields of human resource development, education, and science and technology. Universities in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, and other places are climbing up the global higher education rankings. Asia’s schools were once recipients of support from Japanese universities, but today they are equal partners, and in some cases competitive rivals. We are seeing more fluidity in the movements of students within East Asia, and joint projects by scientists and researchers at Japanese and other Asian schools are growing steadily. In the future East Asia is likely to see still more regional integration; as this happens, the stability and prosperity of the region will increasingly rely on the fostering of people who can thrive anywhere in Asia and of the people who will drive the knowledge society of the future.

In areas like academic exchange and scientific and technical exchange activities, or in cultural, athletic, and youth exchange, there are already a number of networks in place, and actors in Japan and other nations have built up a solid body of experience. For this reason further academic exchange initiatives are expected to take loosely defined forms, making use of the EAS, ASEAN+3, the Japan-China-Korea trilateral summits, and other frameworks and involving participation of whichever nations are most interested in the content of each specific initiative.

So what specifically needs to be done? One needed step is to proceed with setting standards for exchange activities in order to ensure their quality. This can be done by using such channels as the CAMPUS (Collective Action for the Mobility Program of University Students) Asia initiative, which advances exchange and cooperation among schools in Japan, China, and Korea to make their degree programs more readily understood and systematically organized. Another step is for Japanese schools to forge networks with their counterparts elsewhere in Asia. One example of this already underway is the development of higher-learning networks in the engineering field by the Japan International Cooperation Agency. This approach builds ties among universities in ASEAN member states and Japan and aims to enhance tertiary engineering programs in the Asian region and foster technical human resources.

Still another step is to advance the development of common school curricula for all of East Asia and promote research on the region itself. This will also involve formulating concepts for training institutes to produce top-level educators and researchers and creating bases for East Asia research in Japan as well as elsewhere. It will also be important to provide educational opportunities to promising youths from overseas, offering financial support to student exchange programs at vocational schools producing top-flight people for cultural industries like fashion, cuisine, computer games, and animation.

We will also need to boost multidirectional student exchange, helping Japanese students to improve their communication skills in English and East Asian languages. And it will be necessary to further promote the “Global 30” Project for Establishing Core Universities for Internationalization, which aims to provide incentives for Japanese students thinking of studying abroad, create systems in Japanese schools for instruction in English, and enhance Japanese universities’ programs for accepting international students.

I should add that the MEXT working group’s report proposes the creation of the tentatively titled East Asia Science and Innovation Area as a framework for promotion of regional cooperation in scientific and technical fields. As a means of enhancing networks of scientists and researchers across East Asia and throughout the world, it additionally urges Japan to make use of its research resources. For instance, the report recommends the further improvement of institutions like the SPring-8 synchrotron radiation facility and J-PARC, the Japan Proton Accelerator Research Complex, as well as the expansion of the World Premier International Research Center Initiative (the WPI Program). The working group also recommends training scientists and promoting international joint research in fields like atomic energy, space exploration, disaster mitigation, infectious diseases, heavy particle cancer therapy, and the environment and energy, along with the consideration of a new, jointly organized research grant program.

This last program is a new scheme in which Japan and other nations in the region will provide funding to support joint international research projects, mainly with the involvement of East Asian researchers, with the aim of fostering innovation and nurturing a regional science and technology research community. At the Japan-China-Korea trilateral summit held in May this year, the three leaders adopted a declaration that their countries would explore the possibility of establishing a mutually funded program. More concrete discussions on this idea are set to begin soon. If this scheme is eventually expanded to encompass the ASEAN+6 nations (ASEAN+3 plus India, Australia, and New Zealand), it may become a core platform for the East Asia Science and Innovation Area.

Concepts to Build On in the Future

Guided by the political will of Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio, his administration thus assembled a policy package for the East Asian community initiative with the concerted efforts of the entire government. In the process of achieving economic development and forming this regional community, the nations of Asia will need to grapple with a wide range of issues: the need to forge economic partnerships, to create infrastructure, to correct excessive socioeconomic disparities, and to tackle environmental issues. They will need to cooperate with each other in human security and nontraditional security including infectious diseases, natural disasters, terrorism, transborder crime, and piracy. At the same time, human exchange in the fields of education, science and technology, and culture will play a central role.

Another key point to note is that Japan has come up with an approach to apply in common in all these varied areas. The Cabinet Secretariat’s June 1 report states at its outset that the fundamental thinking underpinning Japan’s actions toward the creation of an East Asian community focuses on five main areas. First is the promotion of open and transparent regional cooperation. Second is the functional cooperation through existing frameworks like Japan’s bilateral relationships with China and Korea, the trilateral ties among them, Japan-ASEAN ties, ASEAN+3, the EAS forum, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. This approach stresses a focus on doing what tasks can be done now with partners ready to cooperate on them and gradually expanding its scope. Third is the utilization of Japan’s accumulated experience, knowledge, and scientific and technical expertise to contribute to finding solutions to the problems expected to come to the fore after the region achieves further growth. Fourth is an emphasis on the human element in the East Asian community: a focus on promoting human and cultural exchange and training human resources who will function at the core of the community scheme. And fifth, based on the belief that Japan must open itself to the world, is a bold, forward-looking, nimble approach to crafting and implementing policy.

Prime Minister Hatoyama stepped down after less than nine months in office. But he left his legacy in the form of Japan’s East Asian community initiative. It remains to be seen whether this can be accomplished boldly and nimbly; we must watch closely to see what happens from now on in cooperative efforts in the fields of human resource training, education, and science and technology, as well as in other parts of the policy arena.

Translated from an original article in Japanese written for Japan Echo Web. [July 2010]