Keynote Remarks at "Japan, 1964: Back To The Future"

Charles H. Rivkin
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
Center for Strategic and International Studies
Washington, DC
July 2, 2014

It’s an honor to be here, and my greetings to all the participants who are going to be part of today’s events, including Senior Vice Minister Kishi, Ambassador Sasae, and other representatives of the Japanese Government, Japanese private sector, including JR Central Chairman Kasai.

So, as was mentioned by Matt, the perspective that I bring to you today is informed by many experiences – as the CEO of a media company in California, where I often found myself in Japan working to expand our business and our collaboration; as a former U.S. Ambassador to France, where I understood and got to know the power of the U.S. embassy abroad and what an embassy can and can’t do on behalf of the U.S. Government; and currently, as Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs.

As the newly-appointed Assistant Secretary – I haven’t been in the job long – I now have the chance to see opportunities more than just business to business. I can see it on a much bigger scale, of course, and this means between our two countries. And I’m looking forward to the forthcoming trip that I will be taking to Japan and China and Singapore later this fall. But in advance of that, I’m delighted to have the opportunity to talk about the enduring and important relationship between our two countries, and the bright future that I am confident Japan is well positioned to realize.

Today’s theme is an excellent way, as was said a few minutes ago, for all of us to take stock of Japan in the watershed year of 1964 and the Japan of today. And as someone who has worked in the entertainment sector, it speaks to me in a very specific and particular way.

For me, the key word is “story.” Now, in the creative industry, especially Hollywood, that word carries a lot of weight. It’s what that industry does, whether we’re talking about video games or television shows for children or action movies. But “story” is not that industry’s exclusive domain. For one thing, it’s the central component in history. And as I’ve come to realize in my new capacity, it’s central to our understanding of economics.

All too often, I believe we tend to think of economies in a dry and theoretical way: the flow of money, the cycles of boom and bust, and so forth. But on a more engaging and significant level, it’s about real people and the decisions they make, based on their resources, values, beliefs and opportunities.

So as we look back at Japan in the year 1964, I think of the story of the Japanese people’s willingness to embrace the future. In 1964, Japan had just reemerged as a developed nation. It had joined the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD. Its latest inventions, like the bullet train, its electronic calculators, and sophisticated time-keeping devices used at the Tokyo 1964 Olympics, were wonders of the modern world. And as host of these Olympics, Japan – for the first time – broadcast the spectacle via satellite and in color.

The world recognized the story: Japan had become an innovative leader – the very epitome of modernity. A whole nation had embraced the future at every level of society – from its political leaders to its electronic inventors, from its business leaders to its consumers, eager to buy those color TVs and get on those bullet trains.

Fifty years later – today – Japan and the Asian region, as well as the United States, face a distinctly 21st century set of choices. The challenge for all of us now is not industrial modernization but globalization. In 1964, the key to growth was technology and capital. Today, in 2014, technology is still critical, but the key question is no longer how to pay for it, but how to use it. The economies of the future stress innovation, entrepreneurship and global openness to goods, services, and ideas.

Thinking in particular about Japan, my hope is that it will consider a balance between preserving its underlying social fabric and embracing reforms that can move the economy to the next level and allow it to once again act as the leading influence on the global stage. I believe that Japan’s influence will be determined primarily through private sector innovation, but it is also important to consider the role Japan will play in global standards and rules structures like the World Trade Organization, APEC, and the OECD.

As Japan embraces and steps forward as a global leader, it will find a reliable and committed partner in the United States of America. Japan and the United States helped shape and build the Asian economic miracle together, and I expect that we will continue to be an effective team in the future. The most encouraging signs of all are visible in Japan itself. Like in 1964, it’s on the rise again, and as part of its revitalization, it’s asking the difficult questions.

For example, Prime Minister Abe’s Third Arrow includes the recognition of three vibrant segments of the potential workforce – ready to bring new vigor to the economy. As everyone here knows, these are women, young people and foreign workers.

Prime Minister Abe has called for at least 30 percent representation for women in the private and public sectors in leadership positions. And we fully applaud this ambitious benchmark, which would greatly contribute to Japan’s economic growth. And I’m pleased to hear that Japan – following the Prime Minister’s commitment at UNGA last year – will host “The World Assembly on Women” in September to discuss women’s empowerment.

Many young people in Japan are eager to contribute to Japan’s innovative economy. But the seniority system in many companies keeps them waiting in the wings. By giving them opportunity, those companies will not only benefit from having more innovators but greater profitability.

Foreign workers are also poised to contribute. By joining the Japanese economy, they would help to meet the needs of many businesses, which may not be able to survive without them.

These are culturally and politically sensitive matters, I understand, and not only in Japan. But many friends of Japan believe that its demographics and potential for looming labor shortages require consideration of new and innovative responses.

A second component is the powerful and enduring partnership between our two countries. Japan is a treaty ally and the cornerstone of our rebalance to Asia. For that reason, we consider Japan’s economic rejuvenation to be a critical U.S. national security priority. And we want to see a vibrant, economically confident Japan as a trading partner, as a source of technology, as well as a leader and positive role model for Asia.

That’s why we are working hard to take this partnership to yet another level – through the successful completion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership – or TPP. Both Japan and the United States are deeply engaged in negotiations to bring the agreement to a successful conclusion, knowing that the benefits an ambitious agreement can bring to all parties involved are enormous.

TPP will open markets, create new opportunities, support job creation, and greatly support Japan’s efforts to increase economic growth. Just as the 1964 Olympics provided a catalyst for Japan’s growth development, it can provide a critical boost to the government’s proposed reforms.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership will help build a new architecture of high standard rules for trade and investment, further deepen our engagement, and create a level playing field, not just between our two countries but all the other countries and TPP members. They currently number 10, but more countries are expressing their interest in joining. And as more of them agree to sign up to its ambitious commitments, TPP will serve as a platform for broader regional economic integration. That, in turn, would serve as an important model for other trade agreements in the region and throughout the world.

TPP was one of the main topics that President Obama discussed with Prime Minister Abe in Tokyo in April. And our TPP negotiations continue to build on the progress that was made in those meetings in Japan. Like all the TPP parties, we are committed to achieving a comprehensive, high-standard 21st century outcome, because we recognize that this is how you generate the greatest economic benefits and do the most to achieve true regional economic integration.

By working together to create a high standard TPP, the U.S. and Japan can chart a future course that fosters prosperity, security, and welfare for the citizens of both nations and the Asia Pacific as a whole.

As Prime Minister Abe has said – and I quote – “I believe that future historians will write that TPP opened the Asia Pacific century. Japan,” he said, “must be at the center of the Asia Pacific century.”

In the year 2014, this is still a story in mid-process. The obvious question is: How is it going to turn out? We will continue to provide our part in the ultimate answer, through our many joint efforts to build a set of rules for trade and investment that are open, free, transparent and fair.

Through the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs and our partners in the State Department and across various U.S. government agencies, we support Japan’s efforts to go to the next level.

Our Commercial and Business Affairs office has worked with our Embassy in Tokyo, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and the private sector to explore ways to promote more innovation and entrepreneurship in Japan, and with encouraging response.

On my upcoming visit to Japan, I will be seeking ways to support these and other efforts, and to do my part to help build on the two-way foreign direct investment relationship, the strong relationship that exists between our two countries.

We are also preparing for the next Internet Economy dialogue, which reflects our evolving joint interests in a new economy being created and shaped by technology and connectivity. And we strongly support a trusted travel and traveler partnership with Japan that would yield great benefits – especially for business travelers.

We are, as many here know, pursuing even greater opportunities in the aviation sector – which is a direct responsibility of mine in the Economic Bureau – including the further opening of Haneda Airport. And that’s another issue which I plan to discuss on my upcoming trip.

Ultimately, the answer to that question – how does it turn out? – is going to come from stakeholders on both sides. Chief among them are Japan’s government, private sector, and its 127 million Japanese consumers. There are critical years ahead; perhaps none more so than the year 2020.

That is the year that Prime Minister Abe has set for his 30 percent representation goal for women and also for making Japan “the world’s most IT advanced nation.”

But it is the year that our two countries are working, as global partners, to advance a post-2020 international agreement on climate change. And it is also the year when Japan – once again – hosts the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The 2020 Olympics will be a fascinating bookend to 1964, giving Japan the opportunity to show the world that it did address the tough questions, that it did take those decisive steps.

When I attended the OECD Ministerial Council Meeting in May, I heard Prime Minister Abe call for an international economic order of fair and impartial rules for competition. He also called for forward leaning economic reforms, including workplace opportunity for women, and a new era of innovative economic growth in his own country. As he said – and I quote again – “the vigorous economy that was once brimming with vitality as the ‘engine of world growth’ has returned once again.”

We will all be watching Japan’s progress with great hope and support, knowing that, in the global architecture in which we all live, success is no longer confined within borders. It’s shared beyond them. If Japan embraces the future that it aspires to, we will all be carried along.

Thank you very much.