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Meridian Diplomacy Forum Discusses Importance of U.S.-Japan Bilateral Relations

By Candace Huntington

On June 6, the Meridian International Center held its annual Diplomacy Forum, this year focusing on Japan to discuss everything from U.S.-Japan relations in business and politics to cultural ties through film, baseball and technological advances.

Deputy Chief of Mission at the Japanese Embassy Kazutoshi Aikawa stood in for Ambassador Shinsuke Sugiyama, who had to accompany Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on a last-minute visit to the White House in preparation for President Trump's June 12 meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The forum was particularly timely given Japan's stakes in the North Korean summit. “On North Korea, our mission is very clear. We want to complete the dismantlement of its weapons of mass destruction and their means of creating missiles in a verifiable manner,” said Aikawa in his opening speech.

Since the end of World War II, relations between Japan and North Korea have been characterized by mutual distrust and tension. Japan’s chief concerns regarding North Korea rapproachment is that the reclusive regime doesn't repeat its pattern of breaking promises to dismantle its nuclear weapons program in return for economic and security assurances. Japan, which was in the path of several ballistic missile tests from the North last year, generally takes a harder line on engagement with Kim than South Korea does. It is also concerned that the young dictator will fail to return Japanese citizens kidnapped by the North.

“We want to return the Japanese citizens who have been kidnapped from North Korea for many years, and we appreciate President Trump’s leadership on this statement that the United States is with Japan 100 percent,” the Aikawa said.


Claire Shipman, journalist and best-selling author, interviews Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara to discuss cultural ties between the United States and Japan through film. (Photo: Meridian International Center)

In an interview with Meridian President and CEO Stuart Holliday, Aikawa emphasized the importance of addressing the kidnappings, which North Korea denied responsibility for 30 years.

"Some of them have been returned to Japan, but 12 of them are still left. There are also unaccounted cases of around 700 Japanese citizens who might have been abducted; we don’t know. That’s also something that I really wanted to push.”

Although negotiations with North Korea have only just begun, there is still a long, uncertain road ahead. The June 12 summit between Kim and Trump was merely the first step, and prior to the historic meeting, Aikawa acknowledged the difficult nature of negotiations down the line to completely denuclearize North Korea, which last year tested its sixth, most powerful nuclear weapon and successfully launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the mainlain United States.

“It should be an enormous task. It would be the first undertaking on the part of the international community to actually dismantle the nuclear weapons. Former President [Ronald] Reagan said ‘trust, but verify.’ We don’t trust North Korea actually, and we have seen the same thing in movies many times before, so that’s exactly why this verification is so important, to be absolutely sure there are no arsenal weapons,” he said.

Japan has relied on its military partnership with the United States, forged in the aftermath of World War II, to maintain security and stability throughout the Pacific region — a relationship it worries could be at risk if the U.S. gives in to Kim's demands to remove 28,000 U.S. troops in the region.

“Over the past few decades, tens of thousands of American soldiers have been stationed in Japan — the men and women in uniform who play a key role in maintaining stability and prosperity across the Pacific and at the same time building bonds of friendship and standing with their Japanese counterparts in solidarity,” Aikawa said.


Deputy Chief of Mission Kazutoshi Aikawa stands in for Ambassador of Japan Shinsuke Sugiyama, who had to accompany the Japanese prime minister on a last-minute visit to the White House ahead of the North Korea summit on June 12. (Photo: Meridian International Center)

The U.S.-Japan joint military program, known as JUMP, has strengthened the friendship and cooperation between the nations. “Both Japan and the United States have a stake in maintaining the free and open maritime law upon which our stability and prosperity is based,” Aikawa said.

In an interview at the forum, Kevin Tsujihara, who serves as the chairman and CEO of Warner Bros., discussed the cultural ties between the United States and Japan through film. Warner Bros. has a history in Japan that dates back to the 1920s and a strong relationship with the nation that continues today. Warner Bros. has shared ownership with Japanese companies, such as Toshiba, as well as partnerships with other companies specializing in technological innovations for the film industry.

“Our history is one where there is deep love for cinema, both Hollywood cinema as well as local-language Japanese cinema. And so we, like many countries that are important to us, export our U.S. films, but we also produce 10 to 12 Japanese films a year. We’d really like to consider ourselves members of the countries that we work and deliver in,” said Tsujihara.

The cultural ties and influences between the two nations, Tsujihara added, are mutually reinforcing. “I mean if you think about Japan’s impact in U.S. culture, Japan has probably been one of the most significant countries that we’ve had through art, through music, through Hello Kitty, Godzilla, fashion and anime,” he pointed out.


Chairman and CEO of Aflac Dan Amos discusses business ties with Japan. (Photo: Meridian International Center)

One of the reasons why Warner Bros. has such a strong relationship with Japan is because of Japan’s pro-business government, especially under the current Prime Minister Abe.

Tsujihara met with Abe and said the two share many of the same goals for Japan’s economic future. Tsujihara alluded to a partnership with Universal Studios to create a more permanent attraction in Japan to increase tourism. Tsujihara mentioned his experience growing up as a Japanese-American. His grandparents had been interned during World War II and as a result, his parents encouraged him to assimilate into American culture and society. But Tsujihara also wanted to learn more about his Japanese heritage and said that his experience being Japanese-American has led to his emphasis on diversity in Warner Bros. films.

The forum highlighted the extensive trade and business ties between Japan and the United States with another featured speaker, Chairman and CEO of Aflac Dan Amos, who discussed the long business history that Aflac has with Japan.

The insurance giant, based in Georgia, first ventured into Japan after Amos’s uncle, John Paul, visited the nation in the early 1970s and saw how health-conscious the Japanese people were, noticing, for example, the surgical masks they wore to prevent catching colds.

In 1974, Aflac became a licensed insurer in Japan. Since then, its operations in Japan has grown significantly and today it constitutes one of the company's largest, most profitable markets.


Paro the Seal is a robotic stuffed animal used in therapies. (Photo: Meridian International Center)

“Today our operation in Japan employs more than 5,000 people that work internally, but in addition to that we have 110,00 licensed associates that sell for us and over 100 different offices throughout Japan,” said Amos. “Our goal is to have a presence in all the outlets where consumers want to buy insurance, and we’ve been very fortunate that we’ve been able to do that. It is amazing to me how we’ve been working with Japan for now over 40 years and yet our business continues to grow because of the support and success that we’ve had with the Japanese people.”

The forum also featured a panel with Dr. Takanori Shibata, chief senior research scientist at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) in Japan, who demonstrated his newest technological development, Paro the Seal. Paro is a robotic seal that is designed to have a therapeutic effect on hospital and nursing home patients. The robot was developed to be a more practical replacement for animal therapy and has been used in the United States at care facilities.

Other panels included discussions on the U.S.-Japan defense partnership featuring Julie Chung of the State Department, Adm. Gary Roughead of the Hoover Institution and Ken Spurlock of Raytheon Missile Systems. Another panel focused on sports diplomacy that showcased the shared love of baseball between the U.S. and Japan. Panelist Nick Sussman of the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy pointed out that the history of baseball in Japan is much more extensive than many people think. The sport was first introduced to Japan in 1872 through an American professor based in Tokyo and steadily grew in popularity through the early 20th century. The Japan Information and Cultural Center is currently hosting an exhibit titled “A New League: Shared Pastimes & the Story of US-Japan Baseball” that will be on display at the Embassy of Japan through Aug. 10.

 


Candace Huntington is an editorial intern for The Washington Diplomat.

 
 

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