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JAN 29, 2005

Davos: Where Public Opinion Is Formed and Japan Is Nowhere to Be Found

By Yoshito Hori
Copyright GLOBIS

My impression from this year’s Davos forum is that no one is at all surprised by the fading presence of Japan. I even got the impression that for many participants, Japan is just another country close to China. With the National Diet in session, cabinet minister Heizou Takenaka was not able to come. There were no senior ministers at all from Japan. Chairman Idei of Sony had canceled at the very last minute.

Until last year, a Japan Dinner had been held. The governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, passed up this year’s conference, so the official TOKYO Reception was not held. As a Japanese citizen, I felt very sad.

There were plenty of sessions about China, but only one on Japan. A lot of people walked out halfway through, and by the end, the venue seemed very quiet. No doubt, the lack of a major politician made many people lose interest.

For other countries, this year included a series of magnificent speeches from the very first day. President Chirac of France led off. He wasn’t able to make it in person due to bad weather, so he spoke via live feed from Élysée Palace in Paris and proposed a new policy for tackling poverty. It was a very well-delivered speech and set the place on fire. Following the welcome speech from the Swiss president, Tony Blair appeared on stage. Reading the mood of the audience, he threw in a few jokes and became the highlight of the event. I was moved by his stance, which emphasized the fight against poverty and threats to the environment.

You could tell that the U.K. and France really placed a lot of importance on Davos. Rather than talking about domestic problems, these two countries spoke as global leaders about how to reform international society. Both are leaders among the G8 nations, as well as permanent members of the UN Security Council. They also exercise leadership with the EU and NATO, so the audience listened earnestly. They both talked about the Asian Tsunami and how the international community stood together in support.

The controversial issue of Iraq was avoided.

I really felt this was one of those occasions that shapes the opinion of the international community. The BBC, CNN, all the major international television networks had reporters on site. All the main newspapers, including The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal, major magazines like Time and Newsweek, along with the New York Times, and the Washington Post were participating. Furthermore, top-ranking officials from major countries, CEOs of mega-corporations like Microsoft’s Bill Gates, and investors like George Soros were in attendance. The deans of Harvard and Yale, and other top-class professors from various fields were there, as well.

This is a perfect venue for politicians. German Chancellor Schroeder graced the stage on the third day, and the Vice President of China appeared on stage on the final day. Former U.S. President Clinton was there, as he had been the year before. The President of Brazil requested membership as a standing member of the UN Security Council, and the Turkish Prime Minister spoke passionately about the legitimacy of their participation in the EU. Davos was the perfect stage for all of them.

Then came the arrival of the new Ukrainian President Yushchenko. When he appeared, wearing an orange tie and holding an orange binder, the audience greeted him with thunderous applause and stood to welcome him. His face, still covered in a rash from having been poisoned, was projected onto a large screen. He seemed very happy to be so warmly welcomed, but he looked a little nervous, as well.

A video was shownー10 minutes long, but very moving. It began with the re-election of the president in power, and the dejected looks on the faces of the people. Angry at this unfair election, the people rose up and swarmed the town, wearing anything orange they could find. The footage showed the serious faces of the citizens in the rain, in the snow. These were normal citizens. They didn’t have weapons. They had taken a stand simply because they hoped to win freedom and wanted to see democratic justice carried through. 

At the sight of these earnest citizen appeals, the police put their work aside and stopped arresting people. The Supreme Court ruled the primary election invalid. The people rejoiced. During the second election campaign, Mr. Yushchenko called for freedom and democracy. Then followed the second polling resulting in his election. The faces of the people were shown throughout the video. It was as though the people themselves had won freedom and democracy.

And here was the main character in all of this, Mr. Yushchenko, on stage at Davos, only a few days after his inauguration. Why had he decided to attend Davos after visiting Russia? On listening to what President Yushchenko had to say, I could understand.

The first thing he spoke about was that the per capita value of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Ukraine was markedly low compared to neighboring countries, and he wanted to see it rise. He went on to describe the attractiveness of the Ukraine market to the CEOs present at Davos. The organizer of the Davos meeting, the World Economic Forum (WEF), expressed wishes to visit Ukrainian member companies. There was an overflowing sentiment by the international community to fully support the nascent Ukraine.

The Prime Ministers of Australia and Canada participated in panel discussions at Davos this year. In the audience were the Prime Minister of Pakistan, the President of Poland, the President of South Africa, and and the President of Nigeria. No doubt, top leaders from other countries were walking the halls. 

Really, the only country that didn’t send its top brass to the forum was Japan.

I wonder whether anyone really noticed. Much like a planned taxation of foreign investors in Japan, if this change passes unhindered, foreign investors will be forced to abandon us.

Something must be done to halt this trend.