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May 10, 2012

Politics & Society “100 Actions” Creating a Vision of Japan: 22. Communication Power and Network Power (Foreign Affairs 8)

“Communication is power and a weapon. In extreme cases, it literally holds the power of life and death over people. Sadly, the Japanese have a very limited awareness of this power.” These are the words of Shinichi Tanaka, a strategic communication consultant, who received his training directly from Soichiro Honda, the legendary founder of Honda Motor Company.

Whatever issues are at stake, decisions are made by people with emotion and will. And communication is one power that will influence such individuals. Another form of influence is the power of personal networks.

In the international arena, nations respond to the hard powers of military and economic might, as well as to the soft powers of culture, education, and tourist resources. To these we may add “communication power”, the ability of a nation to transmit information and convey its message to the rest of the world, and “network power” based on personal relations fostered with people across the globe. All of these are critical elements of national power. Enhancing these elements will enable a country to bolster its influence and presence and to facilitate the realization of its national interests through diplomatic initiatives.

The unfortunate fact is that Japan has not kept up with globalization. As a consequence, its ability to transmit information and to communicate its message falls short of Europe and the United States. Moreover, Japan cannot even compare with other Asian countries, such as China and South Korea.

Let me give an example from the field of international broadcasting. As of 2006, America’s CNN, Britain’s BBC World or France’s TV5 could be viewed in over 100 countries. China’s CCTV was being broadcast to 78 countries, and South Korea’s Arirang TV (a service of the Korea International Broadcasting Foundation established by the Korean government) reached 63 countries. Compare this to the measly 12 countries where Japan’s NHK World TV is available. In addition to broadcasting in their own language and in English, China and South Korea are steadily expanding their multi-lingual international broadcasting. (Source: Article by Yohei Sasakawa, Chairman of Japan Foundation, appearing in Yomiuri Shimbun.) These figures all speak to the same point: now is the time for Japan to do something about its powers of communication and transmission.

Since the Democratic Party of Japan came to office, there have been a series of critically important diplomatic incidents and developments that have exposed the weakness of Japan’s diplomatic channels in resolving problems. Foremost among these are the relocation of the Futenma Airbase and the collision of a Chinese fishing boat with two Japanese Coast Guard patrol vessels in the waters off the Senkaku Islands. The ranks of the postwar generation of “Japan hands” and Japanophiles are on the decrease, raising concerns that Japan’s diplomatic lobby power is being eroded.

It can be easily understood that Japan’s limited awareness of the importance of communication power and the weakness of its international human networks are reducing its international presence and influence.

We live in an age when corporate, personal, and various other types of activities cannot exist in isolation from the rest of the world. What this tells us is that communication and personal networks are fast becoming essential elements of the diplomatic infrastructure.

From this perspective, this “Action” proposes the following lines of action.

1. Bolster the Strategic Overseas PR Functions of Prime Minister’s Office

Japan has a highly splintered system of government offices engaged in overseas public relations. These include the Cabinet Public Relations Office, the Minister’s Secretariat of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) plus the public relations offices of various other ministries and agencies. This current system is not conducive to speedy and strategic public relations. To succeed in strategic overseas public relations, the government must be able to generate and maintain a unified policy response. For this purpose, it is critically important to strengthen the strategic overseas public relations functions of the Prime Minister’s Office so that it can effectively play an overall coordinating role.

Any special advisor to the prime minister running this office will need the support of highly capable and professional staff. This means actively recruiting staff members from the international public relation offices of private corporations and enlisting various types of professionals from foreign public relations companies. Some positive changes were made in the Cabinet Public Relations Office during the term of Motohisa Furukawa as deputy chief cabinet secretary when he invited Noriyuki Shikata from MOFA and Yoshimitsu Kaji from the private sector to join his team. But not enough has been done. What Japan needs is a command post that will work closely with MOFA to gather information on media and public opinion trends in leading countries and to take actions to influence public opinion in these countries.

2. Use Key International Conferences to Put Across the Voice of Japan

There is an urgent need to make the voice of Japan heard globally by using key international conferences for intelligent and impactful communication and for networking.

The World Economic Forum’s Davos Annual Meetings and regional meetings constitute some the best intellectual platforms for influencing international politics and economics. From the perspective of influencing world opinion, it is extremely important for Japanese government officials, corporate executives, opinion leaders, and others to actively participate in these events to express their opinions and build networks. It is not an exaggeration to say that world opinion is effectively formed at the Davos Annual Meetings. Davos participants can change world opinion by taking the podium and speaking out from the floor. With this in mind, persons eligible to participate should be prepared to take an active role in the discussions.

In recent years, a bipartisan group of Diet members formed the Davos Caucus and all Japanese prime ministers since Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori have participated in the Davos Annual Meetings. This is a laudable development. Beginning this year, the Prime Minister’s Office is taking the initiative to organize “Japan Nights” at the summer and winter Davos Meetings. This will provide an excellent opportunity to enhance Japan’s presence and to convey its merits. I am excited by reports that Kundo Koyama will be producing the Japan Night for the 2012 Davos Annual Meeting.

For five consecutive years, the Summer Davos Meeting has been held in China (Dalian and Tianjin), and the Chinese government has gone all out to make a national project out of these meetings. Japan must also stand up to host important international conferences in this country.

3. Improve Japan’s International Broadcasting

The Chinese government is using CCTV to deliver its message to the world. Starting with English-language broadcasting, China has successively added Spanish and French programming. In 2009, it took a further step by adding Arabic and Russian. As a result, China is now broadcasting in all the six official languages of the United Nations. In a related move, China Radio International is broadcasting news targeting users of Apple’s iPhone.

Japan’s international broadcasting is done by NHK World TV. But, as previously mentioned, the number of countries to which it broadcasts is very small. One future goal would be to launch a Japanese version of CNN that reaches a very broad spectrum of countries. To that end, steps should be taken to enhance Japan’s English-language based communication power.

4. Form Global Advisory Group to Prime Minister

One interesting idea would be to make a list of foreign corporate executives, experts, and opinion leaders with a proven track record of influencing international opinion and to appoint from among them a global advisory group to the prime minister. The group would meet regularly to discuss the international situation and policy developments in countries throughout the world. Utilizing the knowledge and expertise of this group in policy formation will prove helpful in making decisions that reflect the global perspective.

Another advantage of the global advisory group is that it would help foster a new generation of “Japan hands” and Japanophiles by encouraging them to develop an accurate understanding of the positions of the Japanese government and its policies. Group members could also be expected to explain Japanese positions and policies to global audiences. This idea is already under consideration and preparations are being made for its launch. As this is an extremely meaningful initiative for Japan, I look forward to both supporting and becoming personally involved in this undertaking.

5. Communicate through Ambassadors and Consul-Generals

Ambassadors and consul-generals of overseas diplomatic missions are literally the representatives of the Japanese government in foreign countries, and their words and actions can have a very direct impact on foreign countries and local communities. Ambassadors and consul-generals should become increasingly engaged in public relation activities. Possibilities include giving lectures, writing for and appearing in the local media, issuing newsletters in local languages, and organizing various types of events for introducing Japan. Our ambassadors and consul-generals can learn a very valuable lesson from US Ambassador to Japan, John Roos, who has been tweeting in both English and Japanese.

The effects of the above public relations activities need to be regularly analyzed, and fixed point observations should be made to monitor trends in local public opinion concerning Japan. These findings must then be fed back into the entire public relations system to maximize results. One of the most important public relations activities would be to provide speedy and on-the-spot rebuttals to erroneous reports and comments regarding Japan made by local media or experts.

In appointing ambassadors, as in the case of the United States, it is desirable to increase the number of appointees from the private sector. Uichiro Niwa, Japan’s ambassador to China, is a private-sector appointee. This may be a problem in a country of such strategic importance as China and a country with which bilateral diplomatic relations are so difficult to manage. The more likely scenario would be to increase private-sector appointees to ambassadorial posts in friendly countries, such as Thailand and Singapore. This would follow the American pattern of appointing a private individual as ambassador to a friendly country such as Japan.

We have seen that effective diplomacy requires power. The sources of this power can be organized into the following seven categories.

(1) Hard power: the military, the economy, technology, access to resources
(2) Soft power: Culture, education, tourism
(3) Legitimate power in international organizations: Voice and placement of personnel in the United Nations Security Council, the International Monetary Fund, and other international organizations
(4) Alliance power for multilateral cooperation and partnership: Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and creating partnership frameworks involving Japan, the United States, Australia, and India
(5) ODA power generated by official development assistance, Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers, etc.
(6) Communication power of conveying information to global community
(7) International network power in the public and private sector: Personal networking in international conferences

Diplomatic power cannot be enhanced overnight. Making constant efforts to raise the level of each type of power over many decades will eventually bear fruit. NHK is currently broadcasting its televised version of Sakano ue no Kumo (Clouds over the Hill), the story of how a small country gained power over a 30-year period following the Meiji Restoration until finally it could join battle with Imperial Russia.

There are many sources of anxiety in Japan today. Population is shrinking and economic power is ebbing. On the other hand, the emerging economies are riding into the global arena with unmatched energy and vitality. These considerations make it even more important for Japan to work on enhancing each source of power and to make Japan’s voice heard more clearly and more strongly. The first steps toward this goal can be taken by individuals. Let us then take these first steps together.


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