Now in its tenth year, the Japan Update hosted by the Australia-Japan Research Centre and the ANU Japan Institute at The Australian National University was held on September 7, 2023. Hosted by Shiro Armstrong (ANU), Fujiwara Ippei (Keio and ANU), and Llewelyn Hughes (ANU) the full-day event once again brought together world-leading scholars, business leaders, and government officials to analyse the multidimensional challenges confronting Japanese leaders in an era of intense international and domestic upheaval.
In his welcome address Dr Armstrong reflected that the Japan Update in its tenth year was taking place against another anniversary, the fiftieth anniversary of the Japan-ASEAN relationship which had grown in strategic and economic importance in recent decades. Turning to the strategic convergence between Australia and Japan, Armstrong struck an upbeat note, arguing that despite challenges and some friction over the climate transition and energy regulations, the relationship had never been stronger. Casting an eye to the future, Armstrong praised the strong student exchanges between Japan and Australia, with the ANU at the forefront of the relationship.
The first panel hosted by Professor Fujiwara centered on the state of the Japanese economy and had as its keynote speaker Mr Masaki Kaizuka, a thirty-five-year-old veteran of the Ministry of Finance and current executive director of the Bank of Japan. In his presentation Kaizuka outlined the promising signs of Japanese economic recovery, highlighting the surprising resilience of the economy even in the face of external shocks. His presentation ended with a caution of the risks facing Japan – from inflationary pressures to the volatile economic situation in the United States, European Union and China. Kaizuka was followed by ANU Professor Renee McKeeby who delivered an in-depth review of the reforms undertaken by the RBA in Australia in the context of Japan concluding a review of its central bank. The discussion centred on reflections of monetary policy and the challenges facing central bankers in Japan and globally.
ECONOMIC SECURITY PANEL
The second panel on economic security in Japan featured prominent representatives from the worlds of academia and business. The keynote address was made by Urata Shujiro (chairman of Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry RIETI) who reviewed Japan’s economic security framework. His speech ended pointing out the incongruence between Tokyo’s commitment to welcoming foreign investment while also restricting investment based on national security concerns. Dr. Richard Dyck, a leading business figure heading up Japan Industrial Partners, and a prominent student of the late Ezra Vogel (Harvard). Dyck’s talk took us deep inside Japanese technological sector. He highlighted the challenge Japanese firms – which had grown into major technological suppliers to Japanese firms – now faced against Chinese firms which in contrast to Japanese firms were focused from their beginning on the global market. Melanie Brock, a businesswoman in the Australia-Japan relationship drew on her experience in Japanese boardrooms to underscore the transformation in Japanese business and ended on a note of real hope that the 30% aim to have women in leadership positions in corporate and government was swiftly met.
POLITICS AND FOREIGN POLICY PANEL
The afternoon session began with a panel on international politics and foreign affairs hosted by Dr. Amy King (ANU). The panel featured prominent Keio University professor Soeya Yoshihide whose work on middle power diplomacy has been a leitmotif of discussions about Japan’s role in world politics for over two decades. Prof. Soeya began by contextualizing Japanese defense transformation within wider preoccupations with how middle power states can navigate a region dividing into hostile blocs. In addition to Japan’s Washington alignment, Soeya promoted the importance of Japanese relations with states such as ROK and Australia. The second speaker, Prof. Oba Mie followed Soeya’s conclusions by delving into the history of Japan-ASEAN cooperation in a particular highlighting major political markers in the relationship such as the 1977 Fukuda speech and doctrine. The Q&A was particularly lively with a back and forth between Prof. Soeya and Dr. Michael Green (USYD) over the direction of Japanese foreign and defense polices. Their debate over the nature of power and international politics represented two possible alternatives for Japanese political leaders in the years ahead.
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY PANEL
The final panel of the Update focused on Science and Technology and was led by Prof. Hughes who with Prof. Yarime Masaru (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology) called on Japan and Australia to deepen collaboration in innovation and development of green technologies and hydrogen production. Yarime in particular focused on the role Australia and Japan could play in helping to draft new laws and governance to regulate technologies such as AI. Professor Anna Moore (ANU) turned our attention from earthly powers to space focusing on human exploration, rocks and space travel. A central theme of her talk was collaboration across the Asia Pacific to leverage space for regional problem-solving, particularly in areas like climate adaptation. For instance, she discussed initiatives aimed at predicting bushfires and monitoring groundwater levels to assist towns in managing their water usage. The final speaker, Izuhara Takero emphasized the depth of opportunities for collaboration between Japan and Australia in the realm of science and technology. He highlighted two projects to demonstrate potential collaboration: The Japanese government’s Digital Garden City Nation initiative and the Yamakoshi DAO project, both of which exemplify the blending of technology with community welfare.
As the proceedings drew to a close Professors Hughes and Fujiwara shared their closing remarks on the day’s events. Thanking the speakers, Hughes reflected again on the connections between the panels, drawing out lines of argument that link changing definitions of economic security to structural shifts in geopolitics and the new and growing challenges of climate change, energy security, and the balance between sovereign capabilities and a fragmenting multilateral system. Finally, Prof. Fujiwara reflected on the decade of history of the Japan Update and the importance of the event to maintain and expanding the knowledge infrastructure that undergirds the Australia-Japan relationship.
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