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Mindful of Both Past and Present Challenges, Japan and the United States Must Work Together to Achieve a Progressive Future
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Mindful of Both Past and Present Challenges, Japan and the United States Must Work Together to Achieve a Progressive Future

The United States and Japan can work together to shape a forward-looking vision for the 21st century.

President Barack Obama, left, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shake hands at the conclusion of their joint news conference at the Akasaka State Guest House in Tokyo, April 24, 2014. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
President Barack Obama, left, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shake hands at the conclusion of their joint news conference at the Akasaka State Guest House in Tokyo, April 24, 2014. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

Today, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe touches down in Boston for the first leg of an eight-day visit to the United States, which will include an April 28 summit meeting with President Barack Obama, as well as an April 29 address to a joint meeting of Congress. The summit’s ambitious agenda will highlight the increasingly close ties between Washington and Tokyo, with significant progress likely to be made on trade issues and revisions to bilateral defense guidelines.

Another major objective for Prime Minster Abe will be to focus public attention on Japan’s global citizenship since World War II and to cast a forward-looking agenda for bilateral cooperation. While the focus for Prime Minster Abe and President Obama will likely be acute challenges in the Asia-Pacific region, they also should use this moment to think about how the United States and Japan can collaborate to promote inclusive prosperity and environmental stability not just in Asia but also globally. Given the two nations’ shared values and a commitment to human rights, human security, democracy, economic opportunity, and confronting climate change, this should be natural. With both nations wielding substantial clout in the United Nations, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the G-7, the G-20, and other critical elements of the global order, it is also practical. Elevating collaboration in these forums as a top pillar in bilateral relations should be a priority for both sides.

Investing in people and prosperity

The United States and Japan have contributed substantially to economic development worldwide, as well as to the global good. The United States was pivotal in establishing international institutions such as the United Nations, and it is the world’s largest contributor of official development assistance globally. Following World War II, Japan was a major recipient of international assistance but became a donor nation within a decade. Today, Japan is the world’s fifth-largest bilateral aid donor, the largest contributor to the Asian Development Bank, and a generous funder of multilateral initiatives such as the U.N. Peacebuilding Fund and the U.N. Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict initiative. These efforts are vital to preserving the security, rights, and freedom of people worldwide.

Japan and the United States have been leaders in not only the quantity of assistance but also the quality. Their commitment to ending poverty and promoting health, food security, and other essential needs has been vital to global growth and progress. However, a new approach is needed: 21st century challenges—including ending extreme poverty, more broadly sharing the benefits of globalization, and combating climate change—demand 21st century solutions.

Despite great progress, significant challenges remain, and business as usual will not offer solutions. The challenge for global development is threefold:

  1. Ensure the rights and dignity of each and every person.
  2. Help economies move from poverty to prosperity.
  3. Work together to prevent and mitigate the effects of catastrophes—which know no borders—from pandemics to violent extremism to the effects of climate change and other environmental crises.

Shared values—including individual rights, building inclusive and prosperous economies and societies, and providing for the global good—unite the United States and Japan and provide the foundation to tackle these challenges together. From Southeast Asia to Africa, the potential for joint investment is great.

Crucially, the United States and Japan also realize that there is work to do at home too. Japan has unveiled ambitious plans to increase the number of women in its workforce, and the United States has taken significant steps toward universal health care and reducing carbon emissions. These domestic initiatives are integral to a new approach to development that sees development less as charity and more as sustainable global progress.

Investing in the planet

In the past decade, natural disasters have been on the rise in the Asia-Pacific region, which presages the impacts of climate change and other environmental problems, such as deforestation, in the coming decades. Agricultural productivity is at risk; rising sea levels threaten to displace more and more people; and food and water scarcity coupled with pandemic exposure have the potential to create a global public health crisis. If the United States and Japan are serious about fostering another 70 years of growth and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, climate change mitigation and resilience, as well as sustainable natural resource management, must be at the heart of bilateral cooperation.

In terms of cutting emissions, the United States has already unveiled its international commitment and has reduced the carbon intensity of its energy consumption by 8 percent since 2005. Japan is expected to pledge a target 20 percent emission reduction by 2030 based on 2005 levels during the June G-7 summit. While dramatically reduced nuclear energy use in Japan makes aggressively reducing domestic emissions extremely challenging, the $4.5 billion that the United States and Japan have pledged to the Green Climate Fund will help developing countries adapt to the impacts of climate change and further reduce carbon pollution. Technology, research, and technical assistance are other areas where the United States and Japan can make a great difference. Delivering advanced low- and zero-carbon energy technology from sources such as wind, solar, and nuclear power for future generations has great potential as an area of cooperation for globally shared prosperity and environmental security.

Conclusion

The United States and Japan cannot tackle the global challenges of the 21st century alone. Both have extensive partnerships and influence in regional and international bodies—from the United Nations to the G-20 and G-7, the Arctic Council, and the multilateral development banks. In the near term, Japan will lead the G-7 in 2016, an opportunity that offers tremendous potential. Working through these forums, the United States and Japan can collaborate with other nations to take action to build inclusive prosperity and tackle climate change. 2015 presents a particularly important opportunity to marry progress on climate, environment, and development with progress on both the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris climate Conference of the Parties.

This week, as all eyes are fixed on the legacy of World War II and the immediate challenges in Asia, it behooves President Obama and Prime Minister Abe to set their focus on a forward-looking, global vision for cooperation.

Molly Elgin-Cossart is a Senior Fellow with the National Security and International Policy team at the Center for American Progress. Brian Harding is the Director for East and Southeast Asia for the National Security and International Policy team. Aarthi Gunasekaran is a Research Assistant with the National Security and International Policy team.

The authors would like to thank CAP’s Energy Policy and Ocean Policy teams and T.J. Bradley for their guidance on this column.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.

Authors

Molly Elgin-Cossart

Senior Fellow

Brian Harding

Director, East and Southeast Asia

Aarthi Gunasekaran

Research Assistant

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