Speeches by the Foreign Minister

February 25, 2021
Let me express my sincere gratitude to the organizer for the opportunity to make a keynote speech at the Tokyo Global Dialogue for the second time, following the first meeting in December 2019.  I am not sure whether my previous remarks were received favorably, or the organizer kindly gave me a second chance, but whatever the reason is, I am appreciative of the offer.

May I respectfully offer my congratulations to President SASAE Kenichiro and all the staff members of the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA) for successfully holding this Dialogue despite the odds under the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last month, the JIIA was named the "2020 Think Tank of the Year" in the annual global think tank ranking by the University of Pennsylvania.  I would like to offer my wholehearted congratulations and compliments to the JIIA for this remarkable achievement, especially given that Japan has not been performing very well in a number of global rankings.

I would also like to take this opportunity to send another set of congratulations to Ms. Avril Haines, a distinguished participant of the first Tokyo Global Dialogue, who recently assumed the position of Director of National Intelligence under the new U.S. administration.  Her appointment to such an important post is a clear testimony that the speakers of this Dialogue are leading figures in their respective fields and countries.

1 Pandemic as a game changer for the international order

During the 15 months since I made the keynote speech at the first Tokyo Global Dialogue, the novel coronavirus has hit mankind, and the world has completely changed.

Since ancient times, pandemics of unknown diseases have tormented mankind.  They also became game changers that shook the global power balance.

Let us take the example of the plague.  Pre-modern Europe experienced at least two pandemics of the plague, both of which shifted the center of gravity of the intra-European relations from areas that were severely infected by the disease to those relatively unscathed: from Greece and the Byzantine world to Western Europe in the 6th century, and from the Mediterranean coast to Europe north of the Alps in the 14th century.

The plague in the 14th century cost the lives of one third of the population of Europe.  In an abyss of despair, people began to doubt the authenticity of the absolute authority, namely the Roman Catholic Church.  This eventually paved the way for the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the birth of secular absolute monarchism.

Here in Japan as well, the smallpox pandemic in the 8th century that killed 30 percent of the population changed the balance of power among the powerful aristocracy, impelled the central government to lift the ban on the private ownership of paddy fields to improve productivity, and eventually brought the rise of a professional military nobility (the samurai) and Japan's own feudal system.  In the course of these developments, Buddhism established its position as the official religion.  It was indeed a fundamental transformation of Japan's politics, economy, and society.

At the first Tokyo Global Dialogue, I shared my views on the direction Japan's foreign policy should take in the midst of the dynamic change in the global power balance.

Since then, the COVID-19 pandemic has been driving us into a time of historic transformation faster than I had anticipated.  The power balance is swinging yet more violently in a wide range of areas, including security, technological competition and digital transformation, and the fight against the pandemic.  In parallel, we are also witnessing some initiatives seeking for multilateral cooperation to address common challenges such as COVID-19 and climate change.

By taking proactive measures against such challenges and utilizing various opportunities, Japan is determined to take the lead in building a post-COVID-19 global order, and thus to further enhance Japan's presence in the international community.

Against this backdrop, today I would like to talk about some initiatives we have taken and the future direction of Japan's foreign policy.

Before moving on to my main topic, allow me to touch upon a series of actions that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs took last year to address the COVID-19 crisis, particularly for facilitating the repatriation of Japanese nationals overseas.

Upon the outbreak of COVID-19, I immediately established and presided over an emergency operation team in the Ministry.  We took extensive measures to combat the pandemic, such as issuing the Travel Advice and Warning on Infectious Diseases as well as enforcing border controls by restricting foreign citizens' entry into Japan and reinforcing quarantine measures.

In particular, I fully devoted myself to protecting and ensuring the safety of Japanese nationals overseas as one of the most important responsibilities of the Ministry.

For example, in late January of last year, Japan carried out repatriation operations in Wuhan, China.  We were the first to send five chartered flights and transported as many as 828 Japanese nationals and their families who wished to return to Japan.

Following these successful operations, Japanese embassies and consulate-generals around the world did their utmost to help Japanese nationals return to Japan, even going further than travel agencies.  For instance, in Africa, we successfully carried out highly complicated operations by bringing together a group of Japanese nationals from 15 African countries in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, the only place in Africa from where regular commercial flights still flew, and helped them return to Japan. 

With such efforts, more than 12,000 Japanese nationals overseas returned to Japan from 101 countries.

I had been closely watching the situation of Japanese nationals overseas who had encountered difficulties in departing from other countries, particularly developing countries, bearing in mind the possibility of sending chartered planes for their evacuation when necessary.  It is my great pleasure to report that, by last November, the number of Japanese nationals stranded due to restrictions on their movement had been reduced to zero.  I remain fully committed to ensuring the safety of Japanese nationals residing in or travelling to foreign countries.      

2 A post-COVID-19 international order and the geographical expansion of a "Free and Open Indo-Pacific" which serves as its foundation

Now back to today's main topic: a post-COVID-19 international order.

While the COVID-19 crisis has emerged as a game changer out of the blue, we are also facing the rise of another game changer that has become increasingly conspicuous over a longer period of time: China.

At the first Dialogue, I emphasized that, in an increasingly unstable and unpredictable world, we should seek solutions on the firm basis of international rules instead of asserting one's own interests by resorting to force.  We should also transform the present international order into a more sustainable one by making new rules that can respond to the ongoing changes, including digitalization.

If an emerging power behaves in accordance with internationally established rules and cooperates in building a new international order, the post-COVID-19 world will be able to regain stability.

In reality, however, we have long been witnessing attempts by one party to coerce others into accepting one's self-declared positions and alter international norms in accordance with its own principles by changing the status quo in a manner inconsistent with international law and by accumulating faits accomplis.  Such behavior is driven not by the common interests of mankind but by that party's pursuit of its own perceived benefit.

Moreover, we also need to be aware of the fact that COVID-19 as a game changer has also provided those who attempt to create an international environment that is uniquely convenient for them with the motivation to take more ambitious actions.

Here, I must reemphasize the importance of acting in accordance with international rules and driving the efforts at rulemaking that will ensure stability for the coming age.  This is exactly what a "Free and Open Indo-Pacific" (FOIP) envisions, and I believe it is part of the mission of Japan's foreign policy to harness this philosophy into tangible outcomes and promote it to even wider areas of the world.  This approach has been delivering concrete results one by one.

The vision of FOIP consists of three elements: first, the promotion of the fundamental principles of the international community such as the rule of law, freedom of navigation, and free trade; second, the pursuit of economic prosperity through the enhancement of connectivity including through quality infrastructure development consistent with international standards; and third, the commitment to peace and stability in fields such as capacity building for maritime law enforcement, disaster risk reduction, and nuclear non-proliferation.  

Let me give you some examples of achievements in materializing this vision.

First, ASEAN, which is located in a strategic position in the Indo-Pacific, issued the "ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific" (AOIP) in 2019.  The Japan-ASEAN Summit that took place last November adopted a leaders' joint statement on cooperation on the AOIP.

This joint statement confirmed that the AOIP and FOIP share relevant fundamental principles in promoting peace and cooperation.  It also articulated ASEAN's commitment to playing a central and strategic role in developing and shaping an open, transparent, inclusive and rules-based regional architecture.

Based on this, the leaders agreed to explore a yet more profound partnership between Japan and ASEAN in the four key fields identified in the AOIP: maritime cooperation, connectivity, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and economic and other possible areas.

Second, at the second Japan-Australia-India-U.S. Foreign Ministers' Meeting that I hosted in Tokyo last October, we reaffirmed the strong will of the four countries to promote a "Free and Open Indo-Pacific" in a concrete way and to broaden cooperation with like-minded countries.  We will deepen our cooperation in such prioritized areas as quality infrastructure, maritime security, counterterrorism, cybersecurity, disaster relief, and education and human resources development.

As for the enhancement of connectivity through quality infrastructure, Japan, the United States, and Australia announced in October a joint project for financing an undersea fiber optic cable to Palau, as the first project to be delivered under the Trilateral Partnership for Infrastructure Investment in the Indo-Pacific.

Meanwhile, last week I had a meeting with the Foreign Ministers of the United States, Australia, and India, including Mr. Antony Blinken, the newly appointed U.S. Secretary of State.  Under Secretary Blinken's initiative, this telephone meeting was convened shortly after the inauguration of the Biden administration.  I highly appreciate this as a demonstration of that administration's strong commitment to the achievement of a "Free and Open Indo-Pacific" and the four countries' cooperation.

Turning to the geographical expansion of support for FOIP, I should touch upon some recent developments in Europe.  Last year, Germany and the Netherlands followed France in announcing their commitment to the Indo-Pacific by publishing policy guidelines. 

In January, I participated in the EU Foreign Affairs Council online for the first time as a Japanese Foreign Minister.  There I elaborated on the ideas of a "Free and Open Indo-Pacific" and earned understanding and support broadly from my European counterparts.

Also, at the Japan-UK Foreign and Defence Ministers' Meeting held on February 3, we shared our vision towards a "Free and Open Indo-Pacific" and confirmed that Japan and the United Kingdom would continue exercising leadership to uphold the rules-based international order and oppose any attempts at coercion in the region.  The United Kingdom also expressed its further commitment to the Indo-Pacific, including through the visit of HMS Queen Elizabeth, the Royal Navy's aircraft carrier, to East Asia.

I also visited six African and five Latin American countries from December to January to discuss the vision of a "Free and Open Indo-Pacific" with those countries' leaders and foreign ministers.

For my trips abroad, I have gone through more than 30 PCR tests under the quarantine requirements of the countries concerned.  The results have always been negative, which makes me proud of being one of the safest people in Japan.

Let us get back to the subject.  What was most impressive to me in the course of the meetings I had in Africa and Latin America was that all my counterparts nodded in unequivocal agreement with my views on a "Free and Open Indo-Pacific."  This is a clear indication that an increasing number of countries now share the recognition of the importance of the rule of law and rules-based actions instead of rule by force. 

I am confident that it was indeed against this backdrop that they offered their full support for my belief that we should build a multilayered network of rules-based partnerships and for my proposals on concrete cooperation with Japan.

3 Promoting economic partnership agreements towards the recovery of the world economy

Among the responsibilities we share in building a post-COVID-19 world order, the most crucial is to bring about the recovery of the world economy that tanked due to the pandemic.

In 2009, a year after the global financial crisis, while the advanced economies shrank by 3.3 percent, the overall world economy edged down by only 0.1 percent thanks to the positive growth of emerging economies.  On the other hand, in the ongoing crisis, the 2020 world economy suffered a 3.5 percent contraction, as the advanced, emerging and developing economies together plunged into negative growth, causing damage far more serious than that wrought by the global financial crisis.

Unlike the 2008 crisis, which was an isolated challenge attributed to the collapse of financial bubbles, the ongoing crisis is extremely serious in the sense that real economic activities have been halted extensively and intentionally and that the prospect of recovery remains unpredictable as we are not certain about the outlook for containing this pandemic.

In the midst of this crisis, we have also come to realize the danger of depending on a specific supply chain.

There will be no problem as long as we stand firm on free trade and seek to add layers to existing supply chains to avoid such a risk.  It will be dangerous, however, if someone takes advantage of the COVID-19 crisis to justify the already existing protectionist sentiments that have surfaced in many parts of the world.

Furthermore, what we potentially face is not limited to traditional protectionism in the form of higher tariffs and investment restrictions.

Let us take the example of vaccines, which have the greatest strategic value at this moment.  If a country used the provision of vaccines as an arbitrary diplomatic means to leverage recipient countries towards taking a position favorable to it, such conduct will clearly be against the common interests of mankind.

To make sure the world will not fall prey to such actions, Japan has been leading a series of international discussions.  For example, at the WTO Informal Ministerial Meeting held on January 29, I emphasized that any trade restrictive measures taken in response to the COVID-19 crisis should be temporary, transparent, and consistent with the WTO Agreement.

In fact, Japan has been leading the way in the foundation of high-standard economic rules that are open and inclusive and ensure the free global movement of people, goods, and capital.

As I elaborated at the first Dialogue, Japan took the initiative in framing two major economic partnership agreements, namely the TPP11 and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement, and established high-standard economic rules with the United States and the European Union.  As a result, a free economic zone that covers 80 percent of global GDP is emerging with Japan at its hub.

A more recent outcome is our economic partnership agreement (EPA) with the United Kingdom.  Last August, I myself visited London in the middle of the pandemic to have face-to-face negotiations with my counterpart, which contributed to concluding the agreement in only four and a half months.

The fact that the world's third- and fifth-largest economies, despite being weighed down by the pandemic, reached agreement on the world's most advanced and high-standard rules covering a variety of areas, including the digital economy and financial services, has sent a clear and strong message to the rest of the world that Japan and the United Kingdom are ready to formulate global economic rules befitting the post-COVID-19 world in accordance with existing rules.

By "imagining the unimaginable," Japan will become the first country to recognize potential challenges that may eventually face the world.  We will set forth and give clear shape to visions and rules that will enable the world to address such challenges.

4 A new key to development and evolution: going "green" and "digital"

In addition to the rule-making initiatives, from my experience as Minister for Economic Revitalization, creating aggregate demand is indispensable for the world economy to recover.  In this COVID-19 crisis, a tremendous amount of demand, including consumer spending, evaporated all of sudden.  The figure reached 45 trillion yen, or approximately USD 430 billion, in Japan alone, and we must take robust measures to prop up demand geared to the private sector.  In doing so, we must elevate the level of immediate demand and future growth and transform our economic structure towards the post-COVID-19 world.

How are we going to achieve this?  I believe the key is to go "green" and "digital."

Human beings have single-mindedly sought material abundance by improving the productivity of commodities.  Climate change demonstrated, however, that such historical dynamism will soon lead us to a dead end due to the constraints of the global environment and the finite nature of resources, eventually halting the growth of human prosperity.

We should change our mindset to encompass the notion that addressing environmental issues is not a constraint on economic growth; rather, ensuring the sustainability of the environment and natural resources will create new business opportunities and become a growth engine.

Climate change is drawing growing attention in the context of the economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis as well.  Looking ahead to the post-COVID-19 world, it is critical to develop and utilize technologies needed for the green economy in order to boost potential growth.

In recognition of this situation, last October Japan declared that it aims to realize carbon neutrality by 2050.  In December, Japan adopted the Green Growth Strategy, which sets an extremely ambitious goal with specific numerical targets in as many as 14 fields.

Buoyed by its experience of tackling pollution, Japan ranks alongside the United States in leading the world in green technology, making the green economy an extremely promising frontier for us.

Regarding the digital economy, the other key to economic growth, COVID-19 and the resulting restrictions on mobility prompted us to rethink our old working styles and ways of providing services and to shift to new practices such as working from home, remote medical services, and online education.  In fact, the shift towards unmanned, remote and online services was exactly what I, as Minister for Economic Revitalization, continuously advocated for Japan's growth strategy.

The global stay-at-home requirements are increasing the volume of online transactions.  More intensive efforts are under way to provide online services such as remote medical treatment and to automate the distribution system from upstream to downstream.  All these innovations will only become possible with advanced digital processing technology.

We must take this chance to accelerate digitalization and the related regulatory reforms and get the world economy back to a growth track with the private sector's inspiration and creativity.

In short, while the pandemic is wreaking havoc on the world economy, it is also shedding light on the significance of the digital economy as a new growth engine.

As you can see, the COVID-19 crisis as a game changer is fundamentally expanding the frontiers of the green and digital economies.  Japan is determined to rev up these two engines to lead global economic growth.

Let me share some examples of Japan's initiatives with you.  Regarding the green economy, hydrogen is key to a carbon-neutral society, and Japan is equipped with advanced technologies for hydrogen production and power generation.  We also have a long record of achievements in developing storage batteries, which are prerequisites for the full electrification of automobiles.  Japan will make the most of all these technologies to become a global front runner in the green economy.

Japan keeps its promises, and so do I.  As I vowed at the first Dialogue, Japan has started a new investment and loan initiative that aims to mobilize approximately USD 3 billion from the public and private sectors between 2020 and 2022 for ASEAN countries.  One of the three priority areas of this initiative is green investment.  On top of that, last December, Japan announced its commitment to provide public and private funds equivalent to USD 11.8 billion to facilitate global decarbonization.

In addition, Japan will contribute to making rules and standards pertaining to the digital economy.

Japan has already been taking the leadership in rulemaking for "Data Free Flow with Trust" (DFFT), and it led the global efforts in this area by launching the "Osaka Track" on the sidelines of the G20 Osaka Summit in 2019.  The Japan-U.S. Digital Trade Agreement, which contains extremely advanced provisions, is also a compelling illustration of Japan's global leadership in this field.

The Japan-UK Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement I touched upon earlier also stipulates highly advanced rules that aim to ensure both liberation and safety in the data domain, such as prohibitions against restricting data flow and requiring the disclosure of source codes including algorithms.  This is Japan's notable achievement in the pursuit of DFFT.

On February 1, I chaired the second meeting of the Japan-EU EPA Joint Committee, where the two sides coincided to engage in exploratory talks to reassess the need for the inclusion of provisions on the free flow of data in the EPA.

Furthermore, at the recent WTO Informal Ministerial Meeting, I expressed my willingness to share my experience of negotiating the TPP11, the Japan-U.S. Digital Trade Agreement, and the Japan-UK EPA to provide inputs on rule-making on e-commerce.  This is actually one of the four pillars of WTO reform together with setting requirements for trade restrictive measures, the reform of the Appellate Body, and the review of special and differential treatment in favor of developing countries.

Japan will continue to lead global efforts to make free and fair rules and standards in the two areas of green and digital economies, making full use of its technological prowess and coordination abilities.

5 Changing the future and the world with the wisdom of humanity

The COVID-19 pandemic is a grave crisis of our time, and we are still coming up against the headwind.  But the history of mankind and past civilizations tells us that times of difficulty are in fact times of innovation.

Since I first aspired to devote myself to politics, I have maintained a firm belief: humans cannot change the past or the nature but can change the future and society.  Now is the time for us to turn the ongoing crisis into an opportunity to change our future and society.

It is my sincere hope that this period of the 21st century will be valued, in retrospect, as the time when the wisdom of humanity successfully steered the world that was on a course beset by division and self-interest onto one characterized by solidarity and shared values, and as the time when human beings leaped onto a new stage of development by boosting innovation in every aspect of life, including politics, economy, culture, and science and technology.

To this end, I am determined to play an even more active role.

Thank you very much.

Back to Speeches by the Foreign Minister