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A Missionary for 'Civilian Diplomacy'

Part 5 of 5

From the Nihon Keizai Shimbun (unofficial translation)
By: Tsuyoshi Sunohara
Published: May 18, 2007


Nihon Keizai Shimbun 06/07In the early 1970s, shortly after Tadashi Yamamoto declared independence from his mentor, Tokusaburo Kosaka, the man who had discovered and mentored him, a big project would unexpectedly arrive at his doorstep. The Trilateral Commission would overnight make JCIE a name known around the world. The commission brings together people such as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who are government leaders, business leaders, and academics from Japan, the United States, and Europe. It has developed into a unique forum for global intellectual exchange.

The person who initially conceived of the Japan-US-Europe Commission, now known as the Trilateral Commission, was a member of the Rockefeller family, David Rockefeller. I was contacted about the project in 1972, and we held the first Tokyo Plenary meeting in October 1973. People like Kiichi Miyazawa and Saburo Okita served as the Japanese counterparts, and I assisted by running the secretariat.

Yamamoto carried out numerous examples of citizen-led diplomacy. Through it all, he has held one belief: that JCIE, as a nonpartisan institution that supports "civilian diplomacy," should not be dependent on the government or on any single institution, and should not accept any government subsidies.

Looking back, I think that the reason we have made it this far is solely because of the philanthropic contributions from American foundations, such as the Ford Foundation, and Japanese corporations. From the start, the existence of a nonprofit organization like JCIE in a country like Japan was probably not logical or easy to accept. Still, I swore I would never become a government subcontractor, and even now we are somehow managing to get by with just grants and donations and just over ¥400 million in an endowment.

Through the 1980s, there were 46 Japanese member companies who supported the goals of the Trilateral Commission as dues-paying members. Now, the number of companies, each of which contributes ¥1 million in financial support, has dropped to 19. In the past, the chairman of Keidanren, Gaishi Hiraiwa, would help us by coordinating large-scale fundraising campaigns, but these days these types of initiatives do not happen.

In the 1980s, words like "good corporate citizen" were popular, but now the wind has changed direction. After the bubble burst, the business world's support for that type of thing rapidly declined. But without corporate philanthropy, citizen-led international exchange will simply whither away.

A public good such as international exchange should not be left to the government; it needs to be formed through the participation of many private citizens. Despite that, the infrastructure needed to support such exchanges is absolutely lacking in Japan. Japanese NPOs and foundations are too fragile. Unless we develop and strengthen this sector, I fear that we will not be able to build up good relations with other countries.

With policy dialogue as a central pillar of his work, Tadashi Yamamoto has expanded the space for exchange with the United States and Europe. Today, his focus is mainly on Asia.

I have always been concerned with Japan's role in the world, but in particular, there is a need to look at Japan's role in Asia. In order to promote the healthy governance of international society and to create an East Asia community, we need to promote exchange between Europe and the United States on the one hand and "Asia" as a whole on the other—in other words, Japan together with China, Korea, and Southeast Asia. And this certainly does not imply any rejection of the United States at all.

What is needed is not simply exchange; we are living in a time that calls for more intellectual substance. Based on that thinking, since the latter half of the 1990s, I have been trying to create a quasi–think tank role for JCIE. We created a framework for our activities called the Global ThinkNet, which allows us to operate as a network-based think tank that builds connections between research institutions and researchers around the world who can come together to address the policy issues that are emerging from a more diverse international society.

Since we can no longer depend solely on government the way we used to, JCIE also conducts a program called CivilNet that seeks to enrich the bonds between citizens in the form of voluntary associations. We are working to form connections between these programs and the kinds of dialogues and political exchanges that we had already been carrying out with other countries, and I hope these will let us think more deeply about what Japan's role should be in international society in the 21st century.

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