"Time to Deepen EU-Japan Relations"

by

Ambassador Kojiro Shiojiri

24 November 2011



A Fast Changing World
The world we live in has never been more interconnected. Geographical distance and physical borders have lost their traditional meaning. New dynamics such as the advancement of technology and economic integration have shaped the world into a more interrelated and compact form. More countries have become global players. Problems arising in one country can quickly spread and have a global impact. To overcome these challenges, more and more nations are seeking  enhanced engagement with their partners and developing common solutions to common problems. The most successful are born out of shared values, as they offer the most solid of foundations upon which to build stronger relations.


The Need for EU-Asia Cooperation
There are many global issues, such as the financial crisis and climate change which require Asia and Europe to cooperate. Both regions have played major roles in bringing about the new dynamics that shape the world and will also be at the heart of efforts to overcome major global challenges.Relations between Asia and the EU now have an unprecedented level of potential for cooperation, and Asia and the EU need to develop their relations to ensure they are best placed to jointly overcome new hurdles. Comprehensively strengthening relations with all of Asia can be maximised by deepening relations bilaterally with individual partners.

EU-Japan Relations
At the forefront of Asia-EU relations is the Japan-EU relationship, which aims at deep and comprehensive cooperation.  In maximising the potential in Asia-EU relations, the Japan-EU relationship should be further strengthened in order to  play a leading role.  
Japan and the EU have deepened their partnership since 1991 when we adopted a joint declaration committing ourselves to cooperation in several areas and to provide mutual support. To give a recent example, the EU was among the first partners to offer support to Japan following the  devastating earthquake and tsunami on the 11th of March this year. The EU’s actions and declarations of support and solidarity with Japan was of great comfort to the Japanese people. We are still struggling but at the same time moving forward to guarantee the safety and further development of our collective future.
Another example, in the opposite direction, is Japan’s support for the EU in a time of financial crisis. We encourage and support the EU’s determination to take all necessary measures and actions to ensure the stability of the euro zone. In fact, Japan has been supporting the EU as one of the principle investors in the EFSF and will continue to stand together with Europe throughout.


Future Steps
As already noted, we have approached diversified issues in cooperation and deepened our relationship in various aspects, and now we are focusing on concerted efforts to enhance our relationship further through comprehensive agreements. During the Japan-EU summit this May we agreed to initiate the process of parallel negotiations on both an EPA (Economic Partnership Agreement) and a political agreement. This EPA would allow us to incorporate a new found level of economic partnership into our relationship and establish a model for the international economy. Furthermore, united by a shared commitment to fundamental values and principles such as democracy and the rule of law, Japan and the EU should equally intensify our relations in political areas by concluding a binding agreement covering global and political cooperation worthy of global partners. We are currently undertaking scoping exercises for these agreements, but this represents just the first steps towards what we believe should be a fully comprehensive strengthening of political and economic relations.


In addition to both agreements, we have been actively trying to seize opportunities of substantial bilateral meetings in other fora. Constant dialogue at the highest level has been held at major international summits like the UN General Assembly and G20 meetings to reaffirm the strength of our ties. High Representative Ashton recently visited Japan and held a substantial discussion with Japanese Foreign Minister Gemba. Also, the Japanese Diet and the European Parliament have a productive history of relations and a long standing tradition of open dialogue. Through continuing and deepening bilateral talks and driving forward with economic and political agreements, there is great potential for our future relations. 

Comparing now to thirty years ago, when I was first posted to the Mission of Japan to the European Communities, there is little doubt but that our relationship has strengthened. But our relationship has not yet fully evolved in light of the gravity and standing of Japan and the EU in the world. Japan and the EU should, therefore, reinforce our relationship to a greater extent with a fresh and ambitious perspective and a stronger commitment. Momentum has gathered in both Japan and the EU to proceed with agreements in political and economic areas to ensure our continued development and to tackle global challenges. It is of the utmost importance that we seize the impetus and take this opportunity.

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This article originally appeared for the EU-Asia Centre and is also available at its official site: www.eu-asiacentre.eu