Japan Society Chairman’s Blog – 24


It is mid-January and the temple bells have long since fallen silent, but it still feels
appropriate to say Shinnen Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu to you all, for 2020 had so
many downs alongside the ups that we all need congratulating for having arrived at the new
year, although that too has started with some downs of its own. Even before mentioning
the pandemic, all us Brits have surely noticed that Washington’s Capitol Building has been
stormed only twice: the first by British troops in 1814 and the second on January 6 th , by
supporters of President Donald Trump. We can feel relieved that both efforts proved
unsuccessful. In a few days’ time President Joe Biden will be inaugurated and both the UK
and Japan will begin forging new relationships with the relevant people in his
administration, which in Japan’s case means the happily familiar figure of Kurt Campbell,
who was Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs during the first Obama
administration and will now hold a newly created post in the National Security Council co-
ordinating policy for the “Indo-Pacific”. Those interested in the ideas he will bring might like
to read this article he co-wrote in Foreign Affairs and which was published just last week.

It is painful for us all to find ourselves in this new and severe phase of the pandemic,
both in the UK and, albeit more moderately, Japan. It feels particularly sad that young
people are still having to forego some of the rituals and pleasures of youth, such as Coming
of Age Day in Japan last week or a return to proper university terms in Britain this month.
The impressively effective start to the vaccination programme in the UK is however a bright
spot, bringing a genuine sense of being in a final phase: with about 5% of the population
already having had their first jab by January 15 th , this promises to be one programme that
really does meet its ambitious targets and already places the UK well ahead of most others
on this measure. Most people may not be data nerds like me, but for those who are, I have
recently switched my attention when trying to keep track of such coronavirus statistics
worldwide to this website, Our World In Data, produced by a brilliant team at the Oxford
Martin School. I await the day when Japan starts to appear on the charts of vaccinations and
hope that its approvals process for vaccines permits that appearance sooner rather than
later. That hope is for empathetic as well as selfish reasons – it was dispiriting to see travel
to Japan being curbed once again, as part of the new emergency measures – but also with a
view to making the Tokyo Olympics possible in July. I note that Taro Kono, the
administrative and regulatory reform minister, has just put the cat among the pigeons by
saying the fate of the games “could go either way”, but he is surely being honest.

Japan Society lectures have already re-commenced, with Antony Best’s talk on
British Engagement with Japan, 1854-1922 coming on Monday evening, January 18 th . The
regular webinars will also begin again this coming week, with an issue made even more
topical by the plan of the Biden administration for the US to rejoin the Paris Accord: climate
change. Some are calling climate change “slow Covid”, an economic, social and political
threat that could be pervasive and long-lasting, while affecting the whole world. It is also an
issue on which both the UK and Japanese governments have recently made bold
declarations that our countries will achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions in 30 years’
time, but without yet laying out a clear path for how to do so. I am delighted that on
Wednesday January 20th at 11.00am (GMT) I will be joined by two stellar experts on this
issue: Adair Turner, a member of the House of Lords and chair of the Energy Transitions
Commission, and Dr Naoko Ishii, director of the newly established Centre for Global.                                                      Commons at the University of Tokyo, and formerly CEO of the World Bank’s Global
Environment Facility.

Another member of the House of Lords who is well known to many of us involved in
UK-Japan relations is David Howell, a former energy minister under Margaret Thatcher as
well as former chairman of what was then called the UK-Japan 2000 Group. He will be
joining me for a special event on Saturday January 30th at 11.00am (GMT) to discuss his
reflections on 40 years of UK-Japan relations and his own writing about them and about
world affairs in the Japan Times.

The other landmark that was passed over Christmas and New Year was of course the
settlement at last between the UK and the European Union over their new Trade and Co-
operation Agreement. Settled on December 24 th and in force from January 1 st , the new rules
and procedures governing UK-EU trade as well as goods movement between Britain and
Northern Ireland are going to take quite a while for business to get used to – and indeed
consumers, since ordering goods across borders now operates differently too. So on
February 4th our second webinar of the year will provide a review of the new trade
arrangements one month on, by our own Pernille Rudlin, who keeps a close eye on the
views and actions of Japanese companies operating in the UK and EU, and David Henig,
Director of the UK Trade Policy Project at the European Centre for International Political
Economy, who surveys the whole trade horizon. It is good, in a way, to have moved away
from “for or against” to “how is it working and what difference is it making”, so that is what
we will be discussing.

Last but not least, let me draw members’ attention to the fact that our former Japan
Society president, Ambassador Yasumasa Nagamine, who left the UK this month, has now
had his next post announced. As had been foreseen, he will be taking up the seat on Japan’s
Supreme Court being vacated thanks to the retirement on February 7 th of another former
ambassador to the UK, Keiichi Hayashi. We wish him well.