Anyone who has watched beleaguered Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda treading the treacherous tightrope of the Trans-Pacific Partnership has probably concluded that if Japan ever joins a regional free market, it will only do so after being dragged there kicking and screaming.
Behind the almost comically drawn-out saga of a government agonizing over making a decision about making a decision, the debate about whether Japan is going to look outward or inward is serious indeed. And in the wake of the March 11 disasters, it comes at the most crucial time. At the opening of the G1 Global Conference, in a rare admission for a senior politician, Vice Minister of Trade and Industry Keiro Kitagami described Japan’s dilemma:
“We are such an insular society,” he said in fluent English. “We don’t have a sense of competition, or a sense of dependence on other countries.”
The G1 Global Conference made a significant step toward this vital dialogue, not least because it was held exclusively in English. In a historic breakthrough, it attracted some of the best minds in business and government, from Japan and outside, to debate and explain their positions. By speaking only in English, they put the discussion in international terms. Similarly, by choosing English, GLOBIS president Hori sent the message that the relevance of similar conferences held only in Japanese, or with stumbling translation, is over.
“I call it globalization from within,” Hori said as he wrapped up the conference. “People have flown in from Singapore and China just for [this]. I think this is the first-ever one-hundred-percent English conference on this kind of scale.”
Hori also addressed the tragedy of Tohoku, saying Japan can find new purpose from the ruins. “We need to change ourselves and be awakened, for the sake of those people who have died, and for the devastated regions,” he said. “We have to make this a tipping point for Japan. We’ve talked about 20 years of deflation and declining population and bad government debt, and we have to make March 11 a tipping point. For us to be doing this in English is a great step toward being globalized.”
He added: “We’re going to show the world that we’re going to TPP, and we’re going to open up the market and open up Japan, and we’re going to be integrated with the rest of the world.”
Some people say you make your own luck. But what is luck? Roman philosopher Seneca defined it as “when preparation meets opportunity.” It may still be early to be optimistic, but what’s certain is that the G1 Global Conference was one stage of preparation that signaled at least some of Japan’s leaders are ready.