Japan’s plan to help victorious Boris Johnson


Does the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson require any advice following his party’s landslide victory in last week’s general election?

As a former journalist, he may well feel he’s entitled to switch off the TV, unplug the computer and ignore the newspapers.

Nevertheless, thousands of reporters are eagerly offering him suggestions on which policies he should follow. One proposal which appeared in the Financial Times caught my eye.

The writer, Gideon Rachman, started by repeating the FT’s position that the Brexit is a disaster for the UK’s businesses and for its economy. He said: “a sceptical world believes that leaving the EU is an act of self harm.”

But he went on to suggest that a landmark deal with Japan could help “rebuild British power and influence.”

Trade opportunity

The article said that Britain should become a member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an international trading pact which is strongly advocated by Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe.

Mr Rachman claimed that countries like Japan “have a clear interest in preserving international rules at a time when both the US and China are challenging the multilateral order.”

Following the Brexit, British diplomats face many years of trade negotiations with countries outside the EU.

One key consideration will be how to approach China, which is hugely important to the global economy but which is run on a quite different political system to that of the UK.

Mr Abe could make the case that if Britain sides with China through the TPP, this would help counterweight Chinese influence, especially within Asia. The TPP includes several nations which could be regarded as rivals of China, such as Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Other members include Australia, New Zealand and Canada, all of which enjoy a close relationship with Britain.

Trump’s world view

Japan had hoped that the United States would also be part of the TPP. Barack Obama agreed to join but Donald Trump withdrew America’s application as soon as he became president.

Nevertheless, Mr Abe has done his best to keep on good terms with Mr Trump. This pleases many people in Washington, who believe that America’s focus nowadays should be Asia and not Europe or the Middle East.

Mr Johnson and Mr Trump have a built a rapport and have some common ground.

Following the general election, Downing Street announced: “The prime minister spoke with president Trump, who congratulated him on the result.

“They discussed the huge importance of the relationship between the UK and US and looked forward to continued close cooperation on issues such as security and trade, including the negotiation of an ambitious free trade agreement.”

I doubt that during their short telephone exchange they got onto the topic the TPP. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s mentioned next time they meet, especially in the context of the importance of Asia to the global economy.

These are the skills you need to show the boss you’re worthy of work

Do employers in Japan, the UK and other countries share similar expectations when it comes it to new recruits?

This week, I heard a radio interview with Claire Birch from the employment firm Reed, who helps people find work in the British Midlands. She told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme that the following three qualities are crucial

1. Communication skills

2. Having the correct mindset

3. Promoting yourself as a suitable employee

The Japan Business Federation, the Keidanren, which annually surveys its member companies about the emphasis they place when they hire new workers, also found that “communication skills” and other factors related to a candidate’s personality are almost always seen as more important than their expertise.

Communicating well

I am pleased that there is a consensus that communication is highly prized. Although it is a difficult skill to assess, there are many ways in which it can be nurtured; everything from writing poems to making YouTube videos. Japanese teenagers often get a boost by putting on school plays, which are performed to a very high standard.

In the context of international work, being able to communicate well in English is also useful. Yet according to Nippon.com, Japan came a disappointing fifty-third in a ranking of countries based on their citizens’ ability to speak and write English. That puts it in the “low proficiency” bracket for English globally.

Thinking right

But what about the second quality that Claire Reed mentioned – having the right mind set? I am sure that this must be influenced a great deal by the sector in which one is seeking work and the culture of the company.

In Japan for example, does a willingness to play golf with your boss reflect the right mindset? Or is that an outdated way of thinking about things, which grates against creating a diverse workforce?

And what about Claire’s point about promoting yourself as a suitable employee? In the US and Europe, LinkedIn and social media are often used proactively by people who are looking for work or who want to expand their network. But relatively few people in Japan use such platforms. Instead, many people use clubs linked to their old universities to network and promote themselves.

However, a recent article in the Nikkei Asian Review suggested that Japan “risks falling behind in terms of global skills competitiveness if it sticks to its conventional hiring practices, which place more weight on applicants’ characters rather than their expertise.”

The article suggested that Japanese universities should do more to encourage people to take post-graduate qualifications and it suggested employers should reward them for doing so.

“The Japanese market is isolated from the global standard of evaluating human resources,” said Eiji Oguma, professor of social science at Keio University.

This may be partly because Japan has low unemployment. Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications puts the unemployment rate for October at 2.4 percent. In the UK, the official unemployment rate is also low, at about 3.8%.

That means there is less competition for jobs but of course, this greatly depends on the type of work for which one is applying. In both countries, finding people to work long hours in shops or care homes is a struggle.

But I am sure that people who want the most rewarding positions in prestigious organisations will always have an advantage if they can prove to their potential employers that they have the skills which mark them out as special candidates.

Is Trump pressing Japan to take up nuclear arms?

 

This week, I joined a discussion of experts on East Asia, which included speculation on whether Japan would, in future, acquire nuclear missiles.

I said on the broadcast that it has absolutely no plans to do so. But the other radio panellists expressed the view that one day, Japan might decide to develop its own deterrent, rather than shelter under America’s so-called “nuclear umbrella.”

Tong Kim, a distinguished columnist for The Korea Times, said: “Donald Trump has made it quite clear that America will not play the role of world policeman for much longer and the US is therefore retreating from established global security arrangements.

“But ironically, Mr Trump is beefing up America’s own military capabilities and even modernising its arsenal of nuclear weapons. He is not doing so not to protect its allies or to maintain global security but in order to protect the mainland of the United States.

Dr Kim asked the question: “If Trump pursues his policy of isolation, will it make the world a safer place?”

Chinese perspective

Our discussion was broadcast live on China Radio International. Professor Wang Yiwei from Renmin University was in the studio in Beijing.

“No country can be the global policeman anymore because of a shift in power. Partly due to new technology, the world has become more horizontal, less vertical. And many people in the United States seem to think it’s unfair for them to pay for security for the rest of the world,” said Professor Wang.

Abe’s enthusiasm

For my part, I said that I saw little fundamental change in the security alliance between Japan and the United States. There are still 55,000 American troops stationed in Okinawa and Tokyo and Prime Minister Abe has enthusiastically cultivated his relationship with Mr Trump.

However, there is a financial imbalance to the arrangement. The US Defence Department puts the total cost of maintaining the US presence in Japan at $5.7 billion but the Military Times estimates that Japan’s support only amounts to $1.7 billion.

Mr Abe’s government has never challenged the value of the alliance although some Japanese people resent Mr Trump’s call to pay more.

Nuclear Issue

On the nuclear issue, I said that Prime Minister Abe spoke clearly following the Pope’s recent visits to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

He told Pope Francis. “As the only country to have experienced the horror of nuclear devastation in war, Japan is a country with a mission of leading the international community’s efforts to bring about a world free of nuclear weapons.”

After the debate on Chinese radio, I did a little more research and I discovered that during his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump did suggest that South Korea and Japan should have their own nuclear weapons to defend against North Korea.

The threat from North Korea
“At some point,” he told Anderson Cooper on CNN, “we have to say, you know what, we’re better off if Japan protects itself against this maniac in North Korea, we’re better off, frankly, if South Korea is going to start to protect itself…. Wouldn’t you rather in a certain sense have Japan have nuclear weapons when North Korea has nuclear weapons?… Wouldn’t you rather have Japan, perhaps, they’re over there, they’re very close, they’re very fearful of North Korea.”

Presidential orders

The Commander-in-Chief of the United States cannot order an independent democratic ally to arm itself with nuclear missiles – especially as that would have such enormous political and constitutional implications for Japan.

But on reflection, I wonder, given the America First approach of Mr Trump and his supporters, whether the suggestion that Japan could one day become a nuclear-armed country might not be quite such a shocking idea, after all.