Ten of world's leading think tanks launch new debate platform to address global issues
Published: March 20, 2017
On March 4, 2017, The Genron NPO hosted a public forum at the U Thant International Conference Hall at the United Nations University in Tokyo, as a part of the Tokyo Conference 2017, a newly launched multilateral debate forum to address global issues. Representatives from leading think tanks from India, Brazil, Indonesia, and all of the Group of Seven (G-7) countries took part in discussions based on the theme, "The Future of Democracy, Liberalism, and the World Order."
The think tanks represented at the conference all share concerns about a potential decline in individual freedoms, democracy and the rule of law. Their discussions at the conference resulted in the drafting of a joint five-point message that will be delivered by a representative of the Japanese government to the government of Italy, which is chairing the G-7 summit to be held in May 2017. Details on the content of the message can be found on the Genron NPO website.
Session 1: Populism and the Future of Democracy
Genron NPO President Yasushi Kudo provided an outline of the results of a questionnaire conducted by the organization, then began Session 1 of the public forum by introducing Shinsuke Sugiyama, the Japanese Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, who provided a speech.
Sugiyama began by suggesting that a calmer approach to the current global situation may be prudent. He referred to the writing of British diplomat Sir Robert Cooper, who claimed that the years 1919 and 1989 were major turning points in international relations over the last century. The Paris Peace Conference in 1919 laid the foundations for the League of Nations, while 1989 was the year of the Malta Summit - a meeting between U.S. President George H. W. Bush and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev - during which the two leaders declared the Cold War over.
Sugiyama asked whether future historians looking back on 2017 will see it as being equivalent to 1919 and 1989 in terms of impact. He cautioned that, while there may be undercurrents to the Trump phenomenon that should be analyzed, panicking is the wrong approach.
Ichiro Fujisaki, chairman of the Sophia Institute for International Relations, who also serves on the Advisory Board of The Genron NPO, moderated the Session One discussions, a selection of comments from which can be found below.
James Lindsay, senior vice president at the Council on Foreign Relations in the U.S. spoke first, stating that while he believes this is a time of "turbulence and uncertainty," much will depend on how policy makers react. In fact, one possible outcome of change is a new, better and revitalized order.
Whether democracy is in crisis or not is a difficult question, he added, noting that while democracy is fundamentally about people having the right to choose, it "doesn't guarantee that the people will choose wisely, or perhaps more accurately, that they will choose how we wish them to do so."
Next to speak was the representative from the United Kingdom, John Nilsson-Wright, senior research fellow in the Asia Programme at Chatham House.
Nilsson-Wright discussed how one possible explanation for the rise of populism is that it emerged out of a sense of economic grievance with the emergence of low cost-labor competition, and a "growing easternization" - i.e. the movement of the center of economic gravity into Asia.
Another explanation behind the increase in populism is anti-elitism fueled by resentment and irritation. Part of that comes from the failure of communities, he said, and to fix that it is necessary to create a sense of community that "transcends national boundaries."
Barbara Lippert, director of research at the German Institute for International Security Affairs, pointed out that even before the arrival of Trump, there was a trend towards populism in Europe, fed by the populist distaste for the common values espoused by the E.U. Lippert also said that it should be remembered that populism isn't limited to the right of the political spectrum; it's on the march on both right and left, "but it's only one part of the broader political scenery." It is not a coherently organized movement, but rather one with "many faces".
Ettore Greco, director of Italy's Istituto Affari Internazionali, pointed to a number of factors contributing to the rise of populism. One factor is the widespread anxiety about the long-term economic future, especially among the young. Globalization has had a devastating effect in some areas, and there need to be policies that protect those who "are left behind".
Another factor is the public's growing uneasiness with increased diversity and issues with integrating immigrants. People are looking to have better border control, and perhaps, there is also a need to think about sharing the burden of migrant flow globally.
Sunjoy Joshi, director of India's Observer Research Foundation, intimated that it would be better to define what we mean by "democracy" before engaging in such discussions. It would be wrong, he said, to assume that democracy should guarantee the liberal order of free trade and open markets. Also, the rise in populism should be seen as a sign for those in the World Economic Forum and the "bankers on Wall Street" that perhaps a "course correction" is in order.
Joshi believes that judicious application of policy is necessary, pointing to the inherent complexities in the system, and stating that our governments need to be far more resilient and adaptive. As Joshi stated, the world has moved far beyond the requirements of the 18th or 19th century. He believes that rather than worry about "why", the G-7 should be made more democratic by including others - including countries like India, Brazil and Indonesia - at the table.
Akihiko Tanaka, who formerly served as president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency and is currently a professor at the University of Tokyo, noted that two potential events would result in large changes in the global status quo on a level similar to the changes of 1919 and 1989.
The first would be drastic changes in current security treaties. Trump made various claims while campaigning that could lead to such changes, though Tanaka pointed out that he has since pledged to continue supporting the U.S. -Japan alliance.
The second potential catalyst would be a failure of liberal democracy in the U.S., and a rise of an authoritarian regime in the country. Tanaka noted that the U.S. constitution was designed to be powerful enough to limit the possibility of such a situation.
In wrapping up the first session of the public forum, Fujisaki offered his opinion that
the populist pendulum may swing back in the other direction. The major strength of the U.S. over China and other nations is the "richness of its democracy, and its tradition of protecting basic human rights and freedom of speech." People want to share these basic values, not those of modern China.
He also reiterated comments made by numerous participants that there needs to be a greater focus on those who have been negatively affected by globalization.
Session Two: Trump Administration and the Future of the International System
Session Two was opened with a speech by Japanese Vice-Minister of Finance for International Affairs, Masatsugu Asakawa, who described how there are two methods of coordinating policy in a globalized society: "multilateralism + globalism" and "regionalism + bilateralism."
Asakawa said that the international cooperative framework has leaned towards both in differing measures at different times over the past 20 years, but he asserted that neither method negates the other.
Asakawa cited the Chinese economy as being a potential risk to international finance.
"There is still high capital outflow momentum," Asakawa said. "However, Chinese authorities are intervening in the fall of the renminbi by purchasing more of the currency and implementing controls on capital outflow, and we support their efforts."
Asakawa concluded by emphasizing the importance of how China deals with the issues it faces, from excess production facilities and bad loans to the introduction of a social security framework and financial resources with its aging populace and declining birthrate.
Genron NPO President Kudo took over as moderator for the second session, and asked participants to provide insight on the new Trump administration and the future of the international system.
Thomas Gomart, director of the French Institute of International Relations, stated that it is necessary for the world to address the effects of the internet. Gomart described that while the internet is a path for "empowerment, entrepreneurship, and freedom," at the same time, it has become a tool for censorship and control by some states. The world must think about the future of digital governments, particularly in terms of the G-7.
In the current climate, the U.S. will continue to dominate, but Gomart believes, "it has lost its moral leadership." China appears to stand as the emerging power and Russia stands as the declining power, which "represents some risk". In addition to the great powers, Gomart touched upon the fragmentation of the Middle East and emergence of Africa, both of which are concerns. Keeping the world open to globalization is the responsibility of the G-7, according to Gomart, but also of other countries like Brazil, India and South Africa. All of which "must defend the principles of moderation and public goods, and defend the principle of the fight against climate change."
Rohinton Medhora, president of the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Canada, referred to a question Asakawa posed about whether globalization and nationalism are compatible. Medhora believes that they are, and in fact, he believes that "nationalism will save globalization". Each country can invest in its own safety nets, innovation strategies, and investment in research and development, and that is just one way through which nationalism can direct the path that globalization takes.
Medhora also referred to a story in the New York Times claiming that there are two factions in Trump's White House: one demanding that the U.S. should "keep denying climate change, and exit the Paris Agreement," and another faction (which includes the Secretary of State and Trump's own daughter) that argues that the current systems and processes can be used to benefit the U.S. and still allow the country to meet international norms.
"New global governance mechanisms, along with traditional ones like trade, can converge, even in the current era," Medhora concluded.
Carlos Ivan Simonsen Leal, president of Brazil's Getulio Vargas Foundation, provided a perspective that differed from those of others on the panel.
He first asked the panel to consider what the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) truly promotes. Perhaps it promotes more trade, perhaps greater isolation of China, he said. Regardless, Trump making the decision to leave the TPP is not simply a sign of his desire to appease voters at home; it is also necessary for him to focus where U.S. money goes.
"It's not so insensible," he emphasized. "Fiscal limits have been reached, maybe surpassed."
The U.S. must be careful with its investments, and in Leal's opinion, the TPP "would weaken the United States, contrary to what most people think."
Leal also pointed to the increased polarization of world trade with commodities and energy on one side, and high aggregated value products on the other. The questions of integrating services and industry are largely ignored and "we still think about these problems in the same way as we used to think 30 or 40 years ago" when world trade was simpler.
According to Leal, the world has changed and new strategies are necessary, and although he pointed out that it is too early to make any judgements, he doesn't see what is happening as a series of blunders as yet. Someone must think outside of the box in order to fix the issues the world faces, and perhaps Trump is doing just that.
Philips Vermonte, executive director for the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Indonesia, pointed out three factors that contribute to the advancement of globalization, and the roadblocks related to each. The first factor is that of technological advancements destroying barriers to trade, or as Vermonte put it, "the dissolution of distance by technology, both ICT and transport." Technology will continue to advance, he said, so this factor will remain.
The second factor is comprised of reduced obstacles to trade such as tariffs, domestic subsidies, and preferential treatment, while the third factor is political, including facets both cultural and domestic.
While the first factor encourages continued advancement of the globalization agenda, Vermonte said that the second and third factors continue to create obstacles. However, he believes that one solution may lie in the founding of regional organizations. The European Union is currently in disarray, but in Southeast Asia, and for the ASEAN Plus 3 nations, the death of the TPP leaves the alternative of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. While the major powers must accept such agreements for them to succeed, Vermonte believes that regional organizations must take up the responsibility of maintaining the momentum behind continued open trade.
Yasuchika Hasegawa, chairman of Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. who also serves on the Advisory Board of The Genron NPO, was also asked to comment and he referred to a McKinsey survey that revealed that increases in global wealth, services, salaries, data, and freedom of movement have contributed to increasing the world's GDP by about 10 percent over the last 10 years. In contrast, he noted, in the period between 1980 and 2008, there was no growth in personal income for those in the lower half of incomes in the OECD member states. Hasegawa stated that the data showed assets belonging to the top 1 percent increasing by about 70 percent, all while income disparity continued to expand.
Hasegawa believes that this illuminates the length of time it takes for the benefits of globalization to be felt by everyone, and pointed to that "benefit lag" as a cause of the opposition to globalization. He believes that the growth of liberal democracy in many countries is a good thing, but more care must be taken, as the fruits of that growth are currently disproportionately allocated to the wealthy.
Kudo wrapped up Session Two by reminding those in attendance that while globalization continues to be important for the common good, up until now, there have been no mechanisms in place that allow its benefits to reach more people.
Educating people on its benefits can prevent the loss of freedom and, in the extreme case, a return to fascism. The world's nations must continue to make use of the multilateral frameworks in place, and continue to promote democracy in each country, he said.