Asia

Remarks by H.E. Mr. Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan, at the Symposium “Shared Values and Democracy in Asia”

Hotel Okura Tokyo, Japan, July 5, 2018

[Provisional translation]

July 5, 2018
Japanese

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I am Shinzo Abe.

I wish to share some thoughts with you here in closing the symposium “Shared Values and Democracy in Asia.”

This is the fourth of our symposium. I join you all in applauding its continuity.

Ours is an especially unique venue for discussions. It is not only unparalleled anywhere in the world but also unmatched at any other time in history.

It has its beginnings in a proposal Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and I made jointly when he visited Japan four years ago in the autumn.

Prime Minister Modi once again kindly provided a message to us here. He and I are both highly gratified that the symposium continues to be held.

Allow me to revisit with you the reason we launched this seminar.

The nation that has held democratic elections regularly at the largest scale in human history and, right up to the present day, has steadily followed through on its electoral outcomes each and every time is none other than India.

I was for a long time quite in awe of this fact.

And yet Prime Minister Modi understood that democracy is not something that comes to flourish through just chance.

I too shared that same understanding.

Democracy is of course something that develops only over the course of decades -- or rather, over the course of generations.

This year Japan commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration.

One hundred and fifty years ago, as the new nation was being formed, the first article of the five-article oath taken by His Majesty at the time was that, “The practice of discussion and debate shall be universally adopted, and all measures shall be decided by public argument.”

Since that time until the present day, we have continued to walk what is, if we think about it, an unending path while we formed and fostered our democracy, facing various trials regarding it.

Is democracy not just like a tree that takes many long years to mature? In order to grow it must extend its roots deep down into the ground. Moreover, as it is not a fast fashion T-shirt, democracy isn’t something you can just take straight off the rack.

In this world, it is very hard to come by democracy that really fits no matter who dons it, from size to design.

Invariably, democracy is something that has to be tailor-made to the national character if it is to take root, and even then, getting those roots firmly set takes a great long time.

That said, ultimately, there is no other system that can replace democracy.

If that is the case, then wouldn’t it be ideal to have a place where at least once a year, from all around Asia, people can bring their knowledge and experience about how to foster democracy -- their thoughts or even their worries!

It was from there that the concept underlying this seminar first came into being.

Democracy not as a “foreign species” introduced from the West. Democracy that is spoken of not in translation, but through our native words and concepts.

What could it be like? It was something we decided we wanted to discuss further.

So how do we foster our own democracy?

The issues involved in that vary with the country and the era.

One thing is certain no matter the era or the circumstances: the foundation of democracy lies in people's hearts.

In Myanmar, which is democratizing, the complete revision of elementary school textbooks is now underway.

People in the government of Myanmar decided that they wanted to foster in children’s minds from an early age their ability to pose questions and then work out solutions by themselves -- that is, the ability to think.

I regarded this as an endeavor equivalent to building future human resources, who will shoulder efforts to cultivate democracy and make it into something good.

Looking at it in that way, I became rather solemn in my reflections.

That was because a great number of Japanese experts were already in Yangon to assist with the complete revision of the textbooks, through the efforts of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, or JICA.

It was because they have been working together with educators in Myanmar over the course of several years.

In the 150th anniversary year of the Meiji Restoration, Japan has been successfully assisting with Asian nation-building and with forming the foundations for democracy.

Had they known, our now-deceased ancestors who carved out the Meiji-era world would, I’m sure, also feel they were well rewarded.

I believe that Japan must continue to make efforts going forward so that it remains a country able to enjoy this kind of trust.

Today we are joined by Professor Sengaku Mayeda and other experts from the Eastern Institute.

I am greatly reassured by the fact that the work of the late Professor Hajime Nakamura has been handed down to a new generation through The Eastern Institute and The Eastern Academy, both of which he himself founded.

Professor Nakamura was well versed in Sanskrit, Pali, Tibetan, English, German, Greek, and French.

I understand he authored 1,186 books and articles in Japanese and as many as 300 in English and other Western languages. And I hear that this is only what they have been able to identify thus far.

His achievements are really amazing. I am proud simply to have breathed the air in the very same era of a person of such great learning, who was a truly great man in this way.

Over the course of his work, he gave deep thought to “compassion,” which both Buddhism and Indian ideologies advocate.

It seems that “compassion” has several possible word origins, including the Sanskrit word “karunā.”

Professor Nakamura explained that within the roots of ideologies that value “compassion” is the thinking that oneself and others are not different, but in fact the very same.

There are, from the first, no differences in social rank or hierarchy and there is no such thing as superior or inferior. There is also no single Absolute prominently projecting itself ahead of others who all fall equal. Right from the start, all are the same; all are equal.

That is the view of human beings, inherent to that “compassion.” My understanding is that was Professor Nakamura’s thinking on the matter.

The people pushing ahead with the Meiji Restoration were the youth of the day. Most were samurai, but from the lower echelons of that rank, far from privileged.

The idea that both you and I -- indeed, everyone -- is equal is a concept they at that time embraced naturally.

We can imagine that that is what channeled the undulations of reforms towards the establishment of an assembly that took the principle of one person, one vote.

It is also possible to find here one of the sources of our feeling, handed down continuously in modern Japan, that what we should deplore is not poverty but inequality.

I believe the lands of Asia seem to contain a rich variety of the nourishing food and the minerals needed to cultivate democracy.

On that fact, our symposium shines a light and promotes our own self-awareness. My congratulations to the successful completion of this year's symposium. I would like to end my remarks with my sincere wishes that in future years the discussions here will go deeper still.

Thank you for listening.