GFJ Commentary

April 28, 2020 

Now is the time for Japan

to adopt a true ‘Insight Diplomacy’

By WATANABE Hirotaka

As an expert on international relations, I have been working on ‘cultural diplomacy’ in its broadest sense including value-oriented international exchange as my research topic. The followings are my proposals coming from such perspective. As the spread of the novel coronavirus continues in Europe and the United States, it has now become a global issue. During the Gulf War of 1990s and the Iraq War, Japan had not really proactively dealt with those as global issues, nor shown its willingness to serve great cause either. In that context, I had proposed in March that Japan should promptly announce worldwide its postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics Games scheduled this year, as well as its policy for overseas medical assistance, particularly to the developing countries. Although China was the origin of this novel virus and its spread, China’s medical cooperation are now appreciated in Europe. What is important under the circumstances is practical response to the imminent global issue and the meaning that it gives to the world, which was why I expected and hoped for the Japanese government’s quick response in this regard.

Fortunately, Japanese government had decided the postponement before the world thought it was late, though the upcoming agenda was when exactly it would be postponed to. In a few days, in the end of March, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided that it will be held in July next year.

Despite such, there are those who were relieved with the quick decision, including the author, and those who were skeptical of that. It indeed brought a sense of relief to the organizer, and athletes or economically associated corporations/people appreciated the decision that gave an upcoming outlook. Then what brings the sense of relief, the author asks himself as well, that the postponed plan is more important while overcoming the biggest reason for the postponement, the spread of novel coronavirus, is not even in sight at the moment. If the Olympics are meant for the peace of humanity, the action against the imminent threat to humanity cannot be postponed.

Therefore, as opposed to what Prime Minister Abe said, to postpone the Games for “about a year,” the author would like to ask why couldn’t he say instead, to postpone “at least a year or more.” The Prime Minister’s remark of “about a year” became “within a year,” then “next Summer” to “later July next year.”

Although it would be difficult for Japan to propose something contrary to what has already been decided, it is better to be prepared in case if the postponement will be “more than a year” or longer. The pandemic remains to be a global issue, even if it would be controlled in Japan, the US or Europe, there would still be a possibility of continuous spread in Africa and other areas.

Here are the suggestions and reasons: (1) It is better for Japan to propose the postponement as the hosting country, to lead the discussion, and voluntarily makes a difficult decision to do so, so that Japan can show its proactiveness toward the global issue like this. (2) Reveal the plan for assistance to hard-hit Italy and beyond Europe, and possibly to Africa as well as other areas if spreads later, soon. Proactive attitude towards global issues like this will ensure Japan for its voice to be heard. It is important to emphasize Japan’s insight, that peace through sports exchanges is the priority cause here, not just for the sake of business and economic benefits.

The cultural diplomacy can be simply regarded as the industry’s contents export policy, but it is how much good messages can be sent out after all. The cultural diplomacy therefore is a message diplomacy. The author sees this message diplomacy as a diplomatic activity of a triangle perception ---the exchange of diplomatic/political concept and policy goal, business/economy and culture/art/academic exchange--- in fruition.

The interrelationship between each perspective looks different, and the discussions in between the categories and correlations are not often held in Japan. This time, the priority is to clarify the diplomatic/political goal, and the international cause for holding the Games was the exchange of people through sports, so the apparent (expected) economic performance shall be put secondary. The author has believed the fixed-point observation from the said three perspectives is inevitable for a successful cultural diplomacy. Additionally, the following routine is required: (1) conceptualization, (2) context ---story making, framework, (3) continuity, and (4) networking. It may sound idealistic, but peace is more important than anything. In a context, Japan’s brave decision to postpone the Games, amidst the global issue of the coronavirus pandemic, shall be valued worldwide. It is postponement after all, not cancellation, and its desire of being recognized for its contribution to world peace through the sports exchange, and continuous efforts for the Games to be held with world’s support, will be regarded highly when the current pandemic gets settled.

The cultural diplomacy is a matter of national branding. That is, to spread a good image of a value or way of thinking, which the author calls an ‘insight diplomacy.’ Couldn’t this abnormal situation be the opportunity to vitalize the exchange of values and ‘dialogue’ in a broader sense? That is what the author believes an enhanced, truly realist diplomacy based on a great cause. Promptness is needed, and now is not a time for Japan to observe in silence.

(This is an English translation of the article written by WATANABE Hirotaka, Academic Member of Global Forum of Japan / Professor, Teikyo University, which originally appeared on the e-forum “Giron-Hyakushutsu (Hundred Views in Full Perspective)” of GFJ on March 23, 2020.)