My impression from this year's Davos meeting is that no one is at all surprised by the fading presence of Japan. I even got the impression that for many participants, Japan is just another country close to China. With the National Diet in session, cabinet minister Heizou Takenaka was not able to come. There were no senior ministers at all from Japan. Chairman Idei of Sony had cancelled at the very last minute.
Until last year a Japan Dinner had been held, but this also was not happening this year. The governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, who participated last year, passed up this year's conference, so the official TOKYO Reception was not held. As a Japanese citizen, I felt very sad.
There were plenty of sessions about China, but only one on Japan. A lot of people walked out halfway through, and by the end the venue seemed very quiet. No doubt, it doesn't really matter unless a major politician is present.
In terms of the presence of other countries, this year included a series of magnificent speeches starting from the very first day. President Chirac of France led off. He wasn't able to make it in person due to bad weather, so he spoke via live feed from Élysée Palace in Paris and proposed a new policy for tackling poverty. It was a very well-delivered speech and set the place on fire. At last, following the welcome speech from the Swiss president, Tony Blair appeared on stage. Accurately reading the mood of the audience, he threw in a few jokes and became the highlight of the event. I was moved by his stance, which emphasized the fight against the challenges of poverty and the environment.
You could tell that the U.K. and France really placed a lot of importance on the Davos forum. Rather than talking about domestic problems, these two countries spoke as global leaders about how to reform international society. Both are among the leadership of the G8 nations as well as permanent members of the UN Security Council. They also exercise leadership with the EU and NATO, so the audience listened earnestly. They both started out with the issue of the Asian Tsunami (which has now completely entered the English lexicon) and how the international community had stood together in an unprecedented display of unified support. From now on, let's make the environment and poverty our top priorities and find solutions. These were topics that could gain everyone's agreement and seemed to score high. Conversely, the potentially controversial issue of Iraq was avoided.
I really felt this was one of those occasions that shape the opinion of the international community. The BBC, CNN, all the major international television networks had reporters on site. All the main newspapers, including The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal, major magazines like Time and Newsweek, along with many local newspapers such as the New York Times, and the Washington Post were participating. Furthermore, top-ranking officials from major countries, CEOs of mega-corporations like Microsoft's Bill Gates, and investors like George Soros were in attendance. The deans of Harvard and Yale, and other top-class professors from various fields were there as well.
This session is a perfect venue for politicians. They have to utilize this forum effectively. German Chancellor Schroeder graced the stage on the third day, and the Vice President of China appeared on stage on the final day. Former U.S. President Clinton was there; he had also participated last year. The President of Brazil requested to be granted membership as a standing member of the UN Security Council, and the Turkish Prime Minister spoke passionately about the legitimacy of their participation in the EU. This Davos session was indeed a perfect stage.
What rocked this perfect stage most of all was the arrival of the new Ukrainian President Yushchenko. When he appeared wearing an orange tie and holding an orange binder, the audience greeted him with thunderous applause, and everyone eventually stood up to welcome him. His face, still covered in a rash from having been poisoned, was projected onto a large screen. He seemed very happy to be welcomed like this, but he looked a little nervous as well.
A video was shown. It was only 10 minutes long, but very moving. It began with the re-election of the president in power, and the dejected looks on the faces of the people. Angry at this unfair election, the people rose up and swarmed the town, wearing anything orange they could find. The footage showed the serious faces of the citizens, in the rain, in the snow. These were normal citizens. They didn't have weapons; they had taken a stand simply because they hoped to win freedom and wanted to see democratic justice carried through.
At the sight of these earnest citizen appeals, the police put their work aside and stopped arresting people. The Supreme Court, to the great joy of the people, ruled the primary election was invalid. The people rejoiced. During the second election campaign, Mr. Yushchenko called for freedom and democracy. And then followed the second polling resulting in his election. The faces of the people were shown throughout the video. It was as though the people themselves had won freedom and democracy.
And here was the main character in all of this, Mr. Yushchenko, on stage at Davos. He began to speak, although he had just been inaugurated as president just a few days earlier. Why had he decided to attend Davos after visiting Russia? On listening to what President Yushchenko had to say, I could understand.
The first thing he spoke about was that the per capita value of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Ukraine was markedly low compared to neighboring countries, and he would somehow like to see it rise. He went on to describe the attractiveness of the Ukraine market to the CEOs present at Davos. The organizer of the Davos meeting, the World Economic Forum (WEF), had also said that it would like to plan a Ukraine visit with member companies. There was an overflowing sentiment by the international community to fully support the nascent Ukraine. At that moment, Davos broke into uproar.
Along with speeches by important people from various countries, the Prime Ministers of Australia and Canada also participated in panel discussions. The only country that didn't send its "top brass" was Japan. Among the participants I was able to confirm were the Prime Minister of Pakistan, and the Presidents of Poland, South Africa and Nigeria. No doubt other top leaders from other countries were also there without my being aware of them.
Yet, unfortunately no one from the upper echelons of Japan was to be seen on this perfect stage, since the National Diet was in session. Even though the presence of Japan was undetectably fading at occasions like this, I wonder whether anyone really noticed. It's just like the taxation of foreign investors I talked about in another column. If it passes unhindered, foreign investors will be forced to abandon Japan. In this way, I thought, the presence of Japan is slowly but surely declining, lower and lower, in the international scene.
So, will Japan actually end up being just another country near China in the eyes of the international community?
Something must be done to halt this trend.
January 29, 2005
On the flight home