Speech by Mr Shintaro Ito, State Secretary for Foreign Affairs, at a Reception to celebrate 150 Years of Diplomatic Relations between the United Kingdom and Japan
at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, London
September 16, 2008
The Right Honourable Lord Malloch-Brown, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
At the outset, I would like to thank Lord Malloch-Brown for holding such a wonderful reception to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Japan-UK diplomatic relationship in this Locarno Suite, one of the most prestigious reception halls in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I would also like to express my sincere appreciation to Lord Malloch-Brown's distinguished guests here tonight, who have been working very hard to consolidate the Japan-UK relationship.
Japan and the UK share a number of fundamental values including freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law and the market economy. Based on this, we have become strategic partners, tackling together various global challenges confronting the international community. Indeed, relations between Japan and the UK are now better than ever. However, our cordial ties were not established in a day but are the successful outcome of a steady growth in friendship over the past 150 years.
On the 26th of August 1858, almost exactly 150 years ago, the Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Amity and Commerce was signed in Edo, now Tokyo. I understand that the original text of the Treaty is being exhibited in the adjacent room today. This treaty was the cornerstone of our diplomatic relationship and the basis for the mutual exchanges which began at that time. Those exchanges were especially important during Japan's modernisation period in the late 19th century, widely known as the "Meiji Restoration", when we learned much from the UK.
Since then, the exchange and cooperation between our two countries has deepened in a wide range of fields. Allow me to talk about a famous Japanese novelist named Souseki Natsume, who laid the foundations of modern Japanese literature. He went to London in 1900 to study English literature for two years, and his life in a socially different environment does not seem to have been a happy one. I believe, however, that this experience paid off later as he produced the first modern novels in Japan as well as introducing to the Japanese people prominent figures from English literature such as William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and George Meredith. In Japan, as you may know, Shakespeare is very popular, and many Japanese who come into contact with his works at school remain devotees thereafter.
One can also discern a favourable trend in people-to-people exchange. On top of a growth in tourism in both directions, the number of students, researchers, JET Alumni and people engaged in working holidays is on the rise as well.
I am pleased to say that, 150 years from the epoch-making event in 1858, the relationship between the two countries has become notably close, and we are now making joint efforts to tackle the critical global issues which are of great concern to the international community in such areas as climate change, the energy issue and security.
In dealing with the various global challenges which I have referred to, where should we go from here? I would like to share with you my somewhat philosophical thoughts on a possible way ahead for Japan and the whole world in the 21st century.
Some people say the 20th century was the era when capitalism and the market economy prevailed, but I don't think it's so simple. If we examine the state of the world in the present day, we instead find various circumstances emerging that cast doubt on such a view. Whatever idea or institution one might discuss, if it is of human creation then it can never attain absolute perfection and is destined, as time goes on, to fall prey to obsolescence. Such imperfection and obsolescence can be seen in the emergence of growing economic disparities and worsening poverty, in environmental challenges, notably that of climate change, and, indeed, in the regional conflicts that have proliferated since the end of the Cold War.
In the international community of the 21st century, it seems that a paradigm shift is necessary for us to make further progress. That is, what is needed is for us to stop and look back so as to come up with a fresh way of thinking, institution, or governing system to serve in place of the capitalism or communism. I personally hold that politics in the present day should imply the creation of a new value system that resonates with the greatest number of people, and I myself intend to work towards the creation of just such a system.
I would argue that the proposition for nation states of the 21st century involves a battle over neither territory nor ideology, but rather over our own inner greed or insatiability. It is a battle within ourselves -- within our own nation. It is noteworthy that Japan, since ancient times, has developed unique ideas and institutions integrating things that had originally contained contradictory elements, whether in political or social institutions or religion. In particular, Japan achieved its present prosperity by applying the tools of Western social systems to its Oriental foundation, thereby attaining national transformation with relatively little social or human cost.
It seems to me eminently natural that the UK, where the Industrial Revolution started and where capitalism was thus born, and Japan, which has undergone some profound transformations during its long history, should collaborate in making the world a better place by setting a new agenda. Japan has always respected and admired the British intellectual community. It recognizes that exchanges with your country played a vital part in its modernisation process -- not just in a material sense but in terms of ideas as well.
Coming back to the 150th anniversary celebration, this year sees many cultural exchange events taking place in both countries. In Japan the opening ceremony of UK-Japan 2008 was held in January, attended by Lord Malloch-Brown in person. This has been followed by a series of events under the theme of "Arts, Science and Creativity" across Japan, which will continue until the end of 2008. These events showcase the UK's contemporary creativity and innovation, and are designed to promote further collaboration between the UK and Japan. Many Japanese people have taken the opportunity presented by UK-Japan 2008 to advance their understanding of, and deepen their interest in, the UK.
Here in the UK, I am delighted to kick off Japan-UK 150 today. From now until the end of 2009, there will be a number of events across the UK. So far more than 100 events have been registered in various categories such as Art & Design, Theatre & Music, Film, and Academia & Science, and we expect more and more to be registered over the year. I hope that many people will have the opportunity to visit these events, when they can look back on our long ties of 150 years and thus develop a greater affinity for Japan. I also hope that these events in both countries will further promote mutual understanding and advance cooperative relations between our countries as we look to the future.
Thank you very much.
Back to Index