Last updated in March 2013
Germany and Japan have a tradition of friendly bilateral relations and over the past decades cooperation on foreign policy has intensified. 2011 marked the 150th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
As G4, G8 and G20 partners, Germany and Japan have shared values and are linked by political, economic and social ties as well as by friendship. Germany and Japan work together closely as partners assuming global responsibility, especially on climate protection, on issues relating to disarmament and non-proliferation as well as in Afghanistan and off the coast of Somalia. On reform of the United Nations Security Council, there is also close political coordination with Brazil and India within the framework of the G4 group. Furthermore, economic, cultural and scientific cooperation between two leading economic powers offers considerable development potential. After China, Japan is Germany’s leading economic and trading partner in Asia. The past few years have seen a gratifying increase in the number of visits to Japan by German parliamentarians. By contrast, visits by Japanese MPs to Germany have been limited by their strict obligation to attend sessions of Parliament, which constitutes a considerable obstacle to their travelling abroad. Nevertheless, Japan’s former Foreign Minister Gemba (DPJ) met with Federal Foreign Minister Westerwelle in Berlin in October 2012 for bilateral talks focusing on territorial disputes in the South China and East China Seas. Bilateral talks at deputy foreign minister level are held regularly on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, most recently in late January/early February between Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office Michael Link and Japan’s Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Toshiko Abe.
The principal multilateral forums for cooperation with Japan are the United Nations, the G8 and G20 groups and the Asia-Europe summits (ASEM). In addition, the EU is a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) on security policy issues in Asia. The political green-lighting of official negotiations on both an EU-Japan Free Trade Agreement and a comprehensive political framework agreement at the 21st EU-Japan Summit on 25 March 2013 in Tokyo is designed to further enhance the quality of EU-Japanese relations based on a strategic partnership of values.
Mutual visits at senior and top level are frequent. The most recent high-level visit to Japan was the October 2011 trip by Federal President Wulff, who has since resigned. The Japanese Emperor Akihito last paid a state visit to Germany in 1993. Crown Prince Naruhito was in Berlin in June 2011.
The two countries’ foreign ministers meet regularly on the sidelines of multilateral conferences. Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle’s first trip to Asia after assuming office took him to Japan. Westerwelle’s visit on 2 April 2011 underscored German sympathy and solidarity with Japan in the wake of the 11 March 2011 earthquake disaster. Then Japanese Foreign Minister Matsumoto visited Germany twice in 2011, to attend the Munich Security Conference and the Ministerial Meeting of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative in Berlin.
The most recent visit to Tokyo by Federal Foreign Minister Westerwelle was in July 2012. Accompanied by Federal Economic Cooperation and Development Minister Niebel, he was there to attend the International Conference on Afghanistan. Niebel visited Japan again in October 2012, this time accompanied by Federal Finance Minister Schäuble, to attend the Annual Meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank Group. Other minister-level visits to Japan in 2012 were those by Federal Food, Agriculture and ConsumerProtection Minister Aigner and Federal Transport Minister Ramsauer. In the past year, numerous members of the German Bundestag have also visited Japan, including the Chairman of the CDU/CSU Parliamentary Group, Volker Kauder. The Foreign Policy Spokesman of the SPD Parliamentary Group and Chairman of the German-Japanese Parliamentary Friendship Group, Rolf Mützenich, made two visits to Japan in 2012. The annual IMF and World Bank meetings were also attended by a joint delegation of the German Bundestag’s Finance and Budget Committee and Committee on Economic Cooperation and Development. A visit to Japan by Baden-Württemberg’s Minister-President Kretschmann is scheduled for May 2013.
The Federal Foreign Office, the Federal Ministry of Defence and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research maintain an exchange of officials with their respective Japanese partners. The Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs holds regular senior-level consultations with its Japanese counterpart. The Federal Ministry of Justice conducts annual consultations on legal policy at state secretary level with the Japanese Ministry of Justice. There is also a regular exchange of judges on work experience and information visits.
Major bilateral bodies
The German-Japanese Forum and the Japanese-German Center Berlin (JGCB) play a special role in relations between the two countries. The JGCB is engaged in a wide range of activities in the economic, scientific, academic, cultural and political sectors. Apart from organizing high-level symposiums, lectures, exhibitions and conferences in Japan and Germany, the JGCB serves as the German secretariat of the German-Japanese Forum.
The JGCB was set up in 1985 on the initiative of Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone and Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl. It is funded equally by Germany and Japan. Meeting once a year alternately in Japan and Germany, the German-Japanese Forum (GJF), which makes proposals to both governments on the future course of bilateral relations and the shared assumption of global responsibility, includes independent, prominent representatives from politics, business and industry, science, academia, culture and the media.
The global economy is struggling, given the difficult situation in the euro zone and the unsolved US debt crisis. On the domestic front, Japan is also still coping with the aftermath of the 11 March 2011 disaster. The impact of the events in Japan on global production, world trade and German-Japanese economic relations appears to be less severe than initially feared. Over the summer of 2011, Japan’s industrial production recovered quicker than expected and reached its pre-disaster level again by the end of the year. For 2012, the Japanese government currently expects GDP to grow by 1.8 per cent.
After a more than 30 per cent slump in trade between Germany and Japan in 2009, bilateral trade grew in 2011 for the third year running. Japanese imports from Germany were worth approximately YEN 1,877 billion in 2011, compared with YEN 1,688 billion in the previous year, an increase of 11.1 per cent. Japanese exports to Germany were worth YEN 1,871 billion in 2011, compared with YEN 1,776 billion in the previous year, an increase of 5.4 per cent. In terms of imports, Japan ranked 13th among Germany’s foreign trading partners in 2011, and in terms of exports 17th. In the first six months of 2012, Germany exported to Japan goods and services worth EUR 12.4 billion, an increase of 20.4 per cent compared with the same period in 2011. In the first half of the year, German imports from Japan were worth EUR 16.2 billion, a decline of 4.1 per cent compared with the previous year.
In the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index, Japan comes four places behind Germany, ranking 24th out of the 185 countries listed. However, among the industrialized nations Japan scores more poorly than in the previous year in the categories Starting a Business (114th place) and Paying Taxes (127th place).
Though Japan’s share of world trade, at 4.6 per cent, is less than that of Germany (9 per cent), it still ranks fourth worldwide. The comparatively low figures do not, however, properly reflect Japan’s importance for world trade and German industrial production, many German products being reliant on the supply of components from high-tech Japan. These are practically irreplaceable because the more complex the primary products, the harder it is to find alternative suppliers. In some sectors, e.g. electronic control and memory modules, Japanese companies are world leaders.
In the financial sector, the two countries’ interdependence is relatively weak. In 2011, a stir was caused by the Japanese government’s purchase of some EUR 3 billion worth of EFSF bonds and its announcement that it might subscribe for further EFSF bonds. In addition, to support the euro the Japanese government has significantly increased its IMF contributions.
An intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in science and technology has been in place since 1974. Government-funded bilateral cooperation currently focuses on marine research, geosciences, life sciences, basic research in physics and environmental research. In addition to the intergovernmental agreement, there are at present more than 300 cooperation accords between German and Japanese higher education institutions as well as numerous project and cooperation agreements between non-academic research institutes such as those belonging to the Fraunhofer Society, the Max Planck Society, the Helmholtz Association and the Leibniz Association and their Japanese partner organizations. In addition, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) opened its own office in Tokyo in February 2013. Cooperation is also rooted in the regular exchange of scientists and researchers under scholarship programmes run by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and by projects funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) in cooperation with the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS).
To increase the visibility of Germany’s contribution to International Cooperation on Science and Technology, a German House of Science and Innovation (DWIH) was also set up in Tokyo under the Foreign Science Policy Initiative (the Federal Foreign Office’s contribution to the Federal Government’s Strategy for the Internationalization of Science and Research presented in February 2008). Consortium heads of the pilot project in Tokyo are the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Japan (DIHKJ) and the German Rectors’ Conference (HRK). On 6 October 2010, the first German-Japanese Science and Innovation Forum was held in Tokyo and featured a keynote presentation by Nobel Prize winner Harald zur Hausen. Another similar major event will be the German Science Days, to be held at the University of Kyoto on 25 and 26 October 2013. In 2011 and 2012, the DWIH held a series of German-Japanese workshops on important areas of bilateral cooperation (e.g. nanomaterials for use in the energy sector, in materials science and to treat neurodegenerative diseases and on Healthy Ageing) as well as supporting study trips to and workshops in Japan organized by German higher education institutions.
The German Innovation Award/Gottfried Wagener Prize, which was created in 2008 and is sponsored by twelve technology-oriented German companies operating in Tokyo, aims to establish sustainable networks and partnerships between German companies and Japanese research institutes and higher education institutions. Former Federal Minister of Education and Research Annette Schavan was the award’s patron. The jury is headed by Professor Dr. Masuo Aizawa (Council for Science and Technology Policy).
Cultural exchange between Germany and Japan is intensive and wide-ranging. The close-knit cultural network including more than 60 Japanese-German societies in Japan, 50 German-Japanese societies in Germany, 429 bilateral higher education cooperation agreements, some 250 German-speaking lecturers, currently 66 town twinning arrangements (including five prefecture partnerships) and the three branch offices of the Goethe Institute – in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto – forms the basis for a wide range of events. Until early summer 2012, the 150th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral relations in 1861 was celebrated in both countries with an attractive and well-publicized programme of events under the motto ‘150 Years of Friendship Between Germany and Japan’.
Numerous concerts given by leading German soloists and orchestras and first-class exhibitions mounted by German museums and collections give substance to the artistic exchange between the two countries. Outstanding examples in the past year were highly acclaimed tours of Japan by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in February 2012, by the Stuttgart Ballet in June 2012 and the Dresden Kreuz Choir in December 2012 as well as the special exhibition ‘Renaissance to Rococo’ featuring masterpieces from Berlin’s museums.
The Goethe Institutes in Tokyo and Osaka organize cultural and information programmes, and the Goethe Institute in Kyoto (Villa Kamogawa) has offered an Artist-in-Residence Programme since the spring of 2011. In addition, there are the events organized by the German East Asia Society (OAG) in Tokyo and Kobe. Japan’s principal cultural intermediaries in Germany are the Japanese Cultural Institute in Cologne and the jointly run Japanese-German Center Berlin (JGCB).
There is a lively academic exchange between German and Japanese universities as part of numerous academic partnerships. Germany’s engagement in the academic sphere includes a German-funded Centre for German and European Studies (since 2000) at the prestigious University of Tokyo and an Environmental Studies programme at the University of Beppu on Kyushu Island (since 2006), which was taken over from the University of Trier. Since the early 1990s, the total number of Japanese students in Germany has increased by approximately 50 per cent, to 2,100. The number of German students in Japan also rose in 2010, despite the language barrier, to approximately 550. The DAAD’s Tokyo office supervises a large number of scholarship programmes for the Japanese side as well and represents the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, which has in Japan one of the world’s largest and most active alumni networks. The Alumni Portal Germany, which was set up in autumn 2008, serves as a network, contact exchange and knowledge broker all rolled into one.
Of particular importance in promoting academic exchange is the generous Philipp Franz von Siebold Award, worth EUR 50,000, which has been presented personally by Germany’s Federal President every year since 1979. The most recent award winner (2012) is Professor Dr. Atsushi Takada of Osaka University’s Graduate School of Law and Politics.
The lively school and youth exchange has been institutionalized since the 1970s. It is organized under the auspices of Germany’s Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth and Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (nearly 10,000 young people have taken part in the Junior Sports Club Simultaneous Exchange since 1974) by the Japanese-German and German-Japanese societies as part of the town twinning arrangements and in cooperation with the Japanese-German Center Berlin (the Mercedes-Benz-funded Takenoko Fund for German-Japanese Student Exchange and the Robert Bosch Foundation-funded Young Leaders Forum).
German films and the regularly held German Film Festival, which is organized by the Goethe Institute in Tokyo, are highly popular. Highlights in 2012 include the Japanese premiere of ‘Hotel Lux’, attended by the film’s director, Leander Haussmann. The European Film Festival also regularly features a German film. Japan is the world’s second largest film market and offers great opportunities for exporting German films. Film festivals in Germany include the Japanese Film Festival Nippon Connection, which is held in Frankfurt am Main. Since 2000, this annual festival has been organized by the non-profit association Nippon Connection e.V.