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What does globalization mean to us? -1-

Address by Sadaaki Numata, Executive Director,
Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership
Abe Fellowship Program – Fellows’ Retreat
Cocoa Beach, Florida
January 18, 2008 

1. Introduction

I feel diffident about speaking after having listened to the fascinating and erudite presentation by my old friend Nayan Chanda. Actually, when I saw the title of his book, “Bound Together: How Traders, Preachers, Adventurers, and Warriors Shaped Globalization”, I wondered which category I would fit in if I were presumptuous enough to claim some modest part in this ongoing process of globalization. I am certainly not a trader, because I have no commercial savvy. If I had one, perhaps I could have been a millionaire. I am neither religious nor adventurous. I am not a warrior, either. In fact, the Greek orator Demosthenes had this to say about ambassadors:
 Ambassadors have no battleships at their disposal, or heavy infantry, or fortresses; their weapons are words and opportunities.

Perhaps, the only saving grace for me is that, as the traders, preachers, adventurers and warriors venture out, there arises always the challenge of cross- cultural communications. That is the area in which I had been involved as a practitioner for 41 years as a diplomat, until I retired in March last year, and in which I continue to be involved in a new capacity now. Allow me, therefore, to start with the disclaimer that I do not presume to give an academic or scholarly presentation, but will speak on the basis of my personal experience in the realm of cross-cultural communications. I hope that you will bear with my highly personal monologue.

2. G8 (G7) Summits

Globalization has been a favorite topic in the context of the G8 (formerly G7) Summit, the sole major forum where Japan can take part in the deliberation and decision-making on issues of global magnitude. Since I went as the Prime Minister’s interpreter to the very first Summit (which was G6 at the time) in Rambouillet, France, in 1975, I kept going to 11 of these summits in one capacity or another through the 1980s and 90s. As far as I can recall, the theme of globalization was first discussed at the Summit in Toronto, Canada, in 1988. When I went as spokesman for the Japanese delegation to the Summit in Birmingham, U.K. in 1998, I saw anti-globalization demonstrations for the first time in the form of a human chain under the banner of Jubilee 2000, and was bombarded by question about debt relief to the poorest countries in Africa and elsewhere. In 1999, at the Summit in Cologne, Germany, the leaders discussed the “lights and shadows” of globalization.

3. Globalisation and mondialsation

When I was taking French lessons in Canada, I discovered that there are two French words corresponding to “globalization” in English; one is “globalisation” and the other is “mondialisation”. The French, with their typical subtlety, apparently make a distinction between the two. “Globalisation” connotes the extension of economic reasoning to all human activities and has an ideological overtone. “Mondialisation”, on the other hand, means the extension all over the globe of all kinds of human activities, be they economic, cultural, political or whatever. I am not here to parse words, but I am inclined to the “mondialisation” viewpoint, in the sense that it is a statement of uncontestable facts rather than an ideological statement. According to Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist and the author of the two major books on globalization, “The Lexus and the Olive Tree” and “The World Is Flat”, the simple definition of globalization is the interweaving of markets, technology, information systems and telecommunications systems in a way that is shrinking the world from a size medium to a size small, and enabling each of us to reach around the world farther, faster, deeper, and cheaper than ever before, and enabling the world to reach into each of us farther, faster, deeper, and cheaper than ever before. You may or may not read some ideological motive into this definition, but nobody can deny that this is indeed what is happening.

4. We do not live in a cocoon.

The reality of today’s world is that Japan, or any other country, no longer lives in a cocoon. What is said and done within the confines of the Japanese archipelago has repercussions on the rest of the world. Conversely, what happens in other parts of the world can affect Japan in a big way. Before globalization became a part of the accepted lexicon, I became aware of this through my experiences in public diplomacy.


When I was the Deputy Spokesman of the Foreign Ministry in the early 1990s, there were occasional cases of Japanese political leaders making politically incorrect statements, on issues of race or work ethic in the United States, for example, generating critical headlines in the United States and elsewhere. I had to scurry around trying to put out the fires. These politicians felt that they were “buddy-talking” in the comfort of their closed circles, only to realize too late that their utterances were being transmitted almost instantaneously by the wire services far beyond Japanese shores. They were being rudely awakened to the hazards of the highly “wired” world, to borrow David Halberstam’s phrase in his book “The Next Century”..

(2) Another feature of the “wired” world is the CNN syndrome, whereby people vicariously experience in real time through the TV screen the traumas and sufferings of others thousands of miles away. The media coverage of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 was an important factor behind the mobilization of the 11-nation Coalition forces against Iraq at the beginning of 1991. Japan’s inability to contribute personnel to the Coalition gave rise to the opprobrium “too little, too late” in the international media when it finally decided to make a financial contribution of US$ 1.3 billion.
(3) The problem was that, in terms of Japan’s contribution to international peace and security, the international public opinion in the United States and elsewhere expected much more of Japan than Japan, with the legacies of the postwar pacifism, was ready to deliver. This gap gave rise to the debate in Japan as to whether Japan would become a “normal country” capable of playing a political and security role in the international community commensurate with its economic strength. During my time in London from 1994 to 98, I spent a lot of time arguing that Japan was on the way to playing such a role through the dispatching of its Self Defense Forces personnel to Cambodia, Mozambique and Golan Heights, etc., and through stepping up its defense cooperation with the United States under the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.

5. Shadow-boxing with the market

Since the bursting of the economic bubble in the early 1990s, Japan kept struggling with its negative legacies throughout the decade. The government took one package after another of measures to put the economy back on the track to domestic demand-led growth and to stabilize the financial system beset by huge “bad loans”. During my stint as Foreign Ministry Spokesman from 1998 to 2000, I was often pitted against the international media that decried the Japanese government policies in such harsh terms as “too little, too late” (again!), “lack of political leadership” or “arterial sclerosis”. In fact, there seemed to be an unholy alliance between the media and the market. The Tokyo correspondents of U.S. and other Western media would file stories berating the Japanese government policies, quoting American and other financial analysts who were operating in the Tokyo market. Wall Street, which closely followed such reports, would look at Japan with a heavy dose of skepticism. Treasury Secretary Rubin and other top policy makers in the U.S. government, who hailed from Wall Street and embodied its ethos, would publicly echo these sentiments, which, in turn, would be reinforced by the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. For me, fielding sharp question from the international media on economic and business issues was like shadow-boxing with the market.

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