photo (Foreign Minister Taro Aso)

On the "Arc of Freedom and Prosperity"
An Address by H.E. Mr. Taro Aso, Minister for Foreign Affairs
on the Occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the Founding of the Japan Forum on International Relations, Inc.

International House of Japan, March 12, 2007

Thank you very much for inviting me here today.

I understand that today, March 12, marks the exact date on which the Japan Forum on International Relations was founded twenty years ago. To the JFIR's Chairman, Mr. Takashi Imai, and its President, Mr. Kenichi Ito, and to all of you at the JFIR I extend my heartiest congratulations.

Having heard that the first chairman of the JFIR was the late Saburo Okita, I would like to share with you a story. On March 25, 1980, I was asking questions at the Lower House Cabinet Committee. Now, this happened to be only the second time I had ever asked questions in the Diet since I had been elected to a seat. And the person to whom I was asking questions was the person who at the time was serving in my current position of Foreign Minister, in the second Ohira cabinet--none other than Saburo Okita. Speaking to you here today, it really moves me to think back on that.

Today in my address I would like to explain in greater detail the "Arc of Freedom and Prosperity," a new pillar in diplomacy that Japan is pursuing as a government-wide effort.

To introduce what this Arc entails, let me first give you an understanding of the geography behind it. This an area that begins with the five nations of Northern Europe and the three Baltic states, then heads through the nations of Central and Eastern Europe that have just recently joined NATO and the EU, and then continues still further into Georgia, where the Russian influence has over the years been quite strong, given it was the birthplace of Josef Stalin, and the other so-called "GUAM" states of the Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova.

The Arc then continues through the countries of Central Asia--an area whose importance will be increasing significantly in the years to come because of the uranium veins that have been discovered--down into Turkey and the Islamic nations of the Middle East.

Heading through Afghanistan, it extends into India and the other nations of South Asia, through to the countries of Indochina, often called the "CLV" countries, namely Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, which are working so tirelessly to catch up with the founding member countries of ASEAN, or the "CLMV" countries which include Myanmar.

As the Arc heads northward it crosses the Korean peninsula and extends as far north as Mongolia, and then somewhat on the periphery it includes Japan's partners of Australia and New Zealand. It is this entire area, which forms the shape of an arc as it loosely traces the outer rim of the Eurasian continent.

Next I would like to address what exactly the concepts of "freedom" and "prosperity" entail.

Each country in the Arc has its own unique characteristics. What's more, whether we look at the GUAM nations or the nations of the CLV, these are countries that have had distinct peoples throughout their long histories.

And yet they all share a greatest common denominator of having stood at the start line within the new globalized world economy--or are now making efforts to stand at that start line--with the desire to develop their economies somehow.

Despite their differences in religion and culture, these countries are all hoping to grow and develop, with the opportunity for greater affluence now right before their eyes. And so, we can say that these countries are trying to find ways towards greater prosperity, plain and simple.

In addition, despite the harsh competitive environment, each of these countries is working to demonstrate its own individuality as a point of national pride. Individuals too are surely of the same thinking, working to better themselves through their pride in themselves and their families. And what lies ahead as the future aim of such ambitions and aspirations can be summed up as nothing other than freedom. The freedom to move about as one pleases, the freedom to state one's opinions, and the freedom to forge one's own future--it is these types of freedom that they seek.

I believe that this is something that hits home quite hard for the people of the former socialist nations within this Arc. However, we must remember that if such freedoms are not secured to some degree, the economy will also surely fail to thrive. In other words, without such freedoms, the dream of prosperity would remain forever elusive.

While we know this to be the case, Japanese struggled with this situation for quite a long time.

And if we consider which political or economic system is ideal for advancing freedom and prosperity, we can say that ultimately it boils down to the question of which system features the greatest degree of equity in its procedures. This leads us to the market economy with regard to economic systems and democracy for political systems, as democracy values the rule of law and basic human rights.

Japan, having cast off the peace and tranquility of the Edo era, joined the age of imperialism underway around the globe, finally settling on democracy after having wavered among a number of approaches. The fact that Japan had to go through so much to reach that point is why Japanese are second to no one in how greatly they value democracy.

Yet, such deep feelings on this topic may perhaps best be left unsaid. Keeping those feelings inside, we want to think of the aspirations of Georgia or the Ukraine, or Laos or Vietnam--countries moving forward, heads held high--as the path towards freedom and prosperity. We also want to run the race together with them, sometimes sharing our water with them. That is our fundamental stance on creating this Arc of Freedom and Prosperity.

What I have shared with you thus far are the conceptual implications of creating an Arc of Freedom and Prosperity, as well as a geographic overview of the initiative.

Another important objective of this policy is to expand the horizons of Japanese diplomacy.

The cornerstone of Japanese diplomacy has been and continues to be the Japan-US alliance. This point remains as true as it ever was. Yet that does not mean we can be content with our present position. On the contrary, I believe that we must continue to invest in this alliance ceaselessly.

Even if the alliance is the cornerstone of our diplomacy, if we take it for granted, it may become difficult for us to understand the critical nature of the alliance and the necessity of constant investment.

Creating an Arc of Freedom and Prosperity is first and foremost an attempt to broaden the horizons of Japan's diplomatic activities and, indeed, Japan's outlook. In addition, it represents the undertaking of a new investment by Japan in the foundations of the Japan-US alliance. One of the main goals of my address today is to clarify this exact point.

Recently, we find that on many occasions Japan and Europe happen to be working in the same fields, with Europe taking a "West to East" approach, so to speak, in investing diplomatic resources in Afghanistan and other areas, while Japan has begun approaching the same issues in an "East to West" manner.

Besides Afghanistan, we find this happening in the Indian Ocean, and, most notably, in Iraq.

I would like to state here that when we find new ways for interacting with Europe, it is also possible to envision a bridge leading to the United States and Canada over the Atlantic, as can be seen in our cooperation with NATO.

I believe that the best example of this is our ongoing refueling efforts in the Indian Ocean, being conducted by our Maritime Self-Defense Forces towards marine vessels from the US and other NATO countries as well as from Pakistan.

Our Self-Defense Forces are drawing kudos from the navies of many countries for their ability to conduct with ease what is known as "parallel refueling," even though it is one of the most difficult efforts undertaken at sea. From this I have arrived at the awareness that the Japan-US alliance is being further strengthened through these cooperative efforts with NATO countries.

In January, Prime Minister Abe and I both visited Europe, with the Prime Minister visiting the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Belgium, the European Commission and the Headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and I myself heading to Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Slovakia. At the same time I had Senior Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Katsuhito Asano attend the Japan-CLV Foreign Ministers' Meeting.

I visited many places to further this goal of creating an Arc of Freedom and Prosperity, but as background to my efforts in Europe, I hope that you can understand and appreciate the enthusiasm I brought to the task, in light of the point I just made a short time ago that the interaction with Europe will become a bridge leading to the United States and Canada.

In any event, when we consider Japan's size, we can see that it is indeed only natural for Japanese diplomacy to head in exactly this direction.

If we take the combined GDP of the entirety of East Asia, including China, as well as that of the nations of the Pacific, the figure amounts to a mere 67.3% of the Japanese economy. Throw the GDP for the entirety of South Asia into the mix and all told it still reaches only 89.4% of the size of Japan's economy.

In other words, as a country of this size, I would hold that Japan has a duty to support such things as freedom and prosperity. But it is better if whenever possible we undertake such efforts in cooperation with other nations with which we share the same values, such as the nations of Europe.

If Japan will be able to initiate a broader scope of diplomatic activities and acquire a more balanced self-image while further strengthening the Japan-US alliance, then that is clearly killing two birds with one stone. And that, you see, is the goal we have set in proposing to create such an Arc.

As for cooperation with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, which are holding their foot on the accelerator as they undertake their shift to democratization, this is something that we will be advancing jointly with the principal member states of the EU, the OSCE, or Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and NATO.

Stability in Afghanistan is another issue being addressed in this way. This year Prime Minister Abe addressed NAC, the North Atlantic Council, which I had addressed last year. We spoke of why there should be closer cooperation between Japan and NATO with regard to assistance to Afghanistan, which was very well-received there.

As a point of fact, at the OSCE, Japan is the only country from outside Europe that has for many years been in a position to join its weekly meetings, and it is not too much to say that both the United States and the principal European member states have long awaited a statement of Japan's commitment.

This reminds me of something that happened just this past November, not long before I delivered my initial speech on the Arc of Freedom and Prosperity. The Prime Minister of Denmark, Mr. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, had paid a visit to Japan, and he was interested in knowing more about what exactly this new pillar in Japanese diplomacy would entail, so I immediately went to pay a courtesy call on him. Just as I was finishing my explanation, the Prime Minister stated that Denmark would support this proposal right across the board, and that served to strengthen my will to see this initiative through. He then expressed his idea in support of stronger relationship between NATO and Japan.

Looking back on this, this was the first reaction I had received to this initiative, and while I will not go into details of other countries' responses, I can say that during my visit to Eastern Europe and also after returning to Japan, the proposal for an Arc of Freedom and Prosperity was welcomed enthusiastically by persons of authority from not only the United States but also the major nations of Europe. If you took all the telegrams that I received conveying such messages you would be looking at quite a stack indeed.

At the same time, there is the possibility that we could work together with not only the countries of Europe but also Russia and China.

In addition to Japan, the United States, and Europe, Russia and China are major powers that have the ability to affect the shape of the world order. And as for India, popularly referred to as the largest democracy in the world, there is ample opportunity from the Japanese perspective for cooperation between us, as two major nations sharing common values.

We should move forward decisively to make what efforts we can in cooperation with key countries towards the objective of creating an Arc of Freedom and Prosperity.

I want to use my remaining time here today to discuss the methodology we will take, addressing what efforts in concrete terms will help bring about this Arc.

That said, diplomacy is of course a patient discipline; for these issues there is no such thing as a "quick fix." In some respects, our menu of options can be said to offer no great innovations in overall approach. One point of particular importance is that we will be engaging in dialogue.

We will be providing ODA to countries needing it, with particular attention going to human resource development, which Japan considers very important and also excels at.

One area in which Japan has built up a significant track record is in various meetings with ASEAN. The framework of the East Asia Summit represents the realization of a vision for Asia held by Japan, along with the democratic nations of Australia, New Zealand, and India.

In Europe, we can take the example of the "Visegrad Four and Japan" talks, also known as the "V4+1." Japan has already begun dialogue with the V4, a group whose name comes from the "V" in "Visegrad," a village on the Danube, and which is comprised of four Central European nations: the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia.

I also hope to have Japan on track to conduct dialogue with the GUAM states. The "G" in "GUAM" stands for Georgia, and Georgian President Mr. Mikheil Saakashvili and his wife just departed Japan yesterday after a five-day visit.

Georgia is an important country that has the potential to serve as a model in the Arc of Freedom and Prosperity, and it has already established an embassy in Tokyo, which opened on February 1. Yet Japan does not yet have an embassy in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. If you will forgive me for digressing here a bit, let me say that I very much look forward for your support for our efforts to enhance our diplomatic capacity.

Georgia, the Ukraine, Lithuania, and Romania came together in 2005 to form the CDC, or the Community of Democratic Choice. The CDC aims at democratic nation-building in the area between the Baltic, Black, and Caspian Seas, and Japan wants to strengthen its dialogue with these CDC states.

Incidentally, in envisioning this Arc, I have included the nations of Northern Europe for good reason. Norway ranks first in the world in the amount of official development assistance disbursed per capita. Furthermore the Swedish Armed Forces International Centre and the Folke Bernadotte Academy rank right along side Canada's Pearson Peacekeeping Centre as being among the world's premier institutes for the training of experts to conduct peace-related activities.

I want to create a system modeled on the traditional Japanese terakoya schools to develop specialists in the area of peacebuilding, and we can look to centers such as these as examples of excellence.

Japan would like to increase its cooperation with the countries such as those in Northern Europe, not only because of the fundamental values we share, but also because these are countries from which we have much to learn, such as their approach to ODA.

I believe that rooted in the concept of the Arc of Freedom and Prosperity we can together support countries striving to grow, and for this reason I think that a dialogue framework of "Northern Europe + 1" may be worth pursuing.

Looking at Asia next, there is a forum known as SAARC, which is the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. SAARC is made up of seven member nations, namely India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, and the Maldives, and Afghanistan is scheduled to become a full member in the near future.

In November 2005, SAARC agreed to welcome Japan as an observer of the Association. Next month, SAARC's 14th Summit will be convened in India. In addition to Japan, the United States, China, Korea, and the EU will also participate in the Summit as observers.

The Arc of Freedom and Prosperity can therefore be seen as an open and flexible concept.

If we remain firm in our sense of purpose, we will be able to pursue this goal hand in hand with other key nations.

In addition to the various fora for dialogues that I just mentioned, the "Central Asia + Japan" Dialogue already has a record of achievement, and Japan hopes to make other meetings we have held, such as the Japan-GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) Foreign Ministers' Meeting with nations of the Middle East, the Japan-CLV Summit, and the Japan-CLV Foreign Ministers' Meeting, regularly-scheduled opportunities for ongoing dialogue.

At the risk of repeating myself, let me again state that each country that would be part of the Arc of Freedom and Prosperity is characterized by a truly unique state of affairs. As a result there is no way to take a one-size-fits-all approach. For that reason, dialogue will be critical, and it will be through dialogue that we will be able to consider what Japan is able to undertake.

In some cases, countries have the foundations on which democracy can thrive, yet they are lacking in infrastructure. In countries in which there is a need to establish government stability and bring peace before we talk of freedom and prosperity, there are ways in which we can assist in peacebuilding. I believe that what is most important in any country is the fostering of human resource development through education.

In Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, many Japanese companies have already undertaken investments, including, for example, automobile manufacturers. We can easily assume that active on-site on-the-job training at factories and plants, and therefore by extension human resource development, will advance further in the years to come.

In the city of Fukui, there is a company named Japan AMC that specializes in the manufacturing of joints and fittings for pipes. The President says that the precision of the products they manufacture can be measured with instruments. Yet the power of the cutting edges of NC lathes can only be determined by observing the finished pieces of metal produced with these lathes. That is, you need to look at the beauty of the outside of a finished piece and simply use your intuition to act or react, and that is where expertise becomes critical.

When Japanese companies start operations abroad, this expertise, or more precisely, the dedication to job performance that fosters this expertise, is invariably transferred over as well. As a result, first-rate Japanese work ethics, in which work is seen as having virtue, come to be handed down too. Over the long run, this becomes a kind of infrastructure that will support future societies of freedom and prosperity.

In our diplomacy in the future I intend to take an "all-Japan" approach, by which I mean I will be making sure that the private sector is well incorporated.

There is a very good example that I would like to introduce from Cambodia, in which Japan assisted in formulating the legal system for the civil code and for the code of civil procedure. The result has been that it is easier for Japanese companies to do business there, while at the same time, social systems ensuring fairness in proceedings can now begin to take hold.

We can say, then, that freedom and prosperity lead to a virtuous circle.

Today in my address I spoke of a number of countries, and in most of these countries, it is not the public servants from the Foreign Ministry so much as the JICA workers, including the senior volunteers, and the young Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers, and the young JC entrepreneurs from the Junior Chamber that are able to penetrate local communities most deeply and sow seeds of good will there.

One young Japanese person tells the story of going to Moldova, one of the GUAM countries, to teach Japanese. He found upon heading to his first class that his assigned classroom had some 50 or 60 seats in it. It never occurred to him that all those seats might actually be used, but sure enough, when class time came every single seat was taken, and to top that off, the Tomomi Kahara song I'm Proud was playing as background music.

In relaying this story to you I would like to leave you with a final thought as I bring my remarks to a close, and that is the fact that there already exists a considerable amount of the "psychological infrastructure"--the infrastructure of the heart--upon which Japanese diplomacy will advance the Arc of Freedom and Prosperity.

In closing today let me once again extend my best wishes for many more years of continued success at the Japan Forum on International Relations.

Thank you all for listening today.

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