Japan’s Indispensable Role in the World


By Kathy Kemper – 06/09/09 04:06 AM ET

Last week I hosted an IFE/INFO breakfast with Fujisaki Ichiro, Japan’s ambassador to the U.S.; Robert Samuelson, economics columnist for The Washington Post; and David Smick, a global economics consultant.

During breakfast, Samuelson briefly discussed his book, The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath, in which he argues that American economic history gives us reason to fear the inflationary impact of President Obama’s bailout packages and stimulus plans. Smick discussed his new work, The World Is Curved, which has been hailed as one of the most prescient books in light of the global financial crisis. We had both books available to be purchased and signed — they make great Father’s Day gifts!

The focus of the breakfast was a dialogue with Mr. Fujisaki, who delivered his talk to an all-star cast: Juan Williams, Major Garrett and Juliet Eilperin were just a few of the big personalities in the room. Speaking at the Japanese Embassy — a sublime, wonderfully organic place — he addressed his country’s role in an uncertain, fast-moving world. When I invited the ambassador to speak, I suggested that he say something “juicy.” He really took the request to heart — in addition to preparing a great talk, he had his staff bring gigantic carafes of orange, grapefruit and cranberry juice to breakfast!

Here’s some of the “other” juice:

He conceded that the global financial crisis has hit Japan hard, but expressed his confidence that the worst is over — “We have hit bottom.” Japan is implementing a stimulus package that, relative to its gross domestic product (GDP), is roughly as large as America’s. Even so, he said, “I am not concerned about inflation at this moment.”

The main point of Mr. Fujisaki’s talk was to remind people that Japan shouldn’t be forgotten as China expands. China’s explosive economic growth and growing geopolitical influence are indeed amazing. In many ways, though, Japan is the true source of inspiration. Consider these facts:

— Between 1998 and 2007, Japan ranked second in its contributions to the United Nations and second in official development aid (ODA), only behind the U.S.

— Japan ranked second in its contributions to Iraqi reconstruction between 2004 and 2006, only behind the U.S.

— Japan ranked second in PCT (Patent Cooperation Treaty) international applications and research/development spending in 2008, only behind the U.S.

— Even though Japan is a heavyweight economy, it contributes only about a twenty-fifth of the world’s CO2 emissions; the U.S. and China each contribute about a fifth.

— Japan is twice as energy-efficient as the U.S. (if it takes Japan one unit of energy to produce a dollar of GDP, it takes the U.S. two units), eight times as energy-efficient as India and nine times as energy-efficient as China. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Japan has been the least carbon-intense economy for the past 25 years, where carbon intensity is defined as the metric ton equivalent of CO2 emissions per $1,000.

— Japan accounts for roughly two-fifths of the world’s public investment in energy research/development.

Japan is also one of the world’s unsung humanitarians. It made a $100 billion emergency loan to the International Monetary Fund at last year’s G20 Summit, and plans to double its ODA to Africa from $0.9 billion to $1.8 billion by 2012. Mr. Fujisaki also described his country’s important contributions to achieving stability in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia.

The ambassador is a strong and effective spokesman for his country.

As it works to engage China, the Obama administration should remember that our friendship with Japan has been the cornerstone of American policy in the Asia-Pacific region for over half a century. It should also realize that innovative solutions to some of the world’s most daunting challenges may well lie in a robust Japanese-American partnership.

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About the author

Coach Kathy Kemper, known as “Coach” to many, is Founder and CEO of the Institute for Education, a non-profit foundation that recognizes and promotes leadership, civility, and finding common ground, locally, nationally, and in the world community.

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