Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,
First of all, thank you so much for the very warm welcome! And I would also like to thank our co-host, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.
When we say in Germany that someone has “Grips”, we mean that they have a quick mind and act wisely, so the name GRIPS says it all.
For over 20 years now, students from more than 60 countries have been taught here how to find wise solutions to international problems. I would say that the current era leaves us in no doubt that this task is becoming increasingly complex, so I am particularly glad to be here today.
But before I say a few words about German-Japanese relations and, most importantly, about the challenges we face together in Asia and Europe, allow me to express my condolences once again, as I just did clearly in my talks with the Foreign Minister, to the Japanese Government and the people of Japan. Many people in Germany have been following the news on the flooding in the western part of your country with great sadness.
Our thoughts are thus with the victims and their families. We feel immense gratitude and above all respect for all those who have helped in this terrible event.
The disaster also reminded us in particular of how Japanese volunteers helped us Germans when severe flooding hit towns in the eastern and southern regions of our country in 2013. This was a gesture that we and many people in Germany have not forgotten to this day.
And so it is wonderful to see that some Germans have now been able to return the favour and help with the cleaning-up work near Hiroshima. They have cleared away the debris and mud and done their utmost to support the Japanese aid workers.
There is a very similar saying in Japanese and German for this type of situation. It says that a friend in need is a friend indeed.
Japan and Germany are “friends indeed”.
That is why it is no coincidence that my first visit to Asia as Foreign Minister has brought me to Japan.
Our countries are united by far more than one might think, given the great geographical distance between us. And I am not only thinking of the cliché that many people have in mind – the idea that the Japanese and Germans are always hard-working, orderly and punctual.
In the fashionable parts of Berlin, Düsseldorf and Frankfurt, ramen is now a staple food. Young people in Germany love manga, anime and cosplay. Books by Haruki Murakami regularly top our bestseller lists in Germany. And 740 university collaborations are, I believe, proof of the unique links between German and Japanese academia.
I can thus only encourage you to make use of these partnerships, to visit Germany, where you will be very welcome, and to get to know our country and people. After all, as a common saying throughout eastern Asia reminds us, “seeing something once is better than hearing about it 100 times”.
For us Germans, Japan, more than almost any other country in the world, embodies a fascinating mixture of loyalty to tradition and rapid technological advances.
I have just come from a visit Zōjō-ji Temple. Behind the temple, the Tokyo Tower juts into the sky and all around one feels the energy of this megacity, whose dimensions are still scarcely comprehensible for a European.
It only takes a few hours for the city’s contrasts and dynamism to cast their spell on visitors. Many of my fellow Germans feel this way, as do many others in Europe. The French ethnologist, Claude Lévi-Strauss, a great expert on your country, once described Japan as the example for human modernity because of this harmonious blend of contrasts. I think this is a very accurate description.
And certainly since the recent World Cup, we also admire Japan for its sporting prowess, although it makes us rather sad to say so.
The Japanese team won the hearts of people all over the world because of how it performed and how it fought until the very last minute. And after the shock of being knocked out at an early stage, many people in Germany supported Japan – and not only because seven players on the Japanese team play in the Bundesliga. In fact, thanks to Yuya Osako we even learned a new word – “hampanai” (半端ない), which means incredible or fantastic.
But no matter how interesting football is, it is not the reason why I have come here today. Discussion on football certainly has a political dimension in Germany at the moment, but I do not want to address that in depth here. And in Lukas Podolski, we already have a very illustrious football ambassador in Japan.
I would like to say a few words today about the huge upheavals we are currently experiencing in the world which pose very similar challenges to Japan and Germany.
For example, in Europe, but naturally to a far greater extent here in Japan, North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests in the past two years have been a cause of great concern. And in Europe, if we didn’t know it before, the fighting in eastern Ukraine and the refugee flows from Syria and Iraq have certainly shown us that we do not in fact live in blissful isolation.
This is now also being heightened by the uncertainty over the United States’ course under President Trump, who also calls alliances that have developed over decades into question in 280-character tweets. Russia has openly challenged the world order through its illegal annexation of Crimea and its conduct in the conflict in Syria and elsewhere.
China wants to shift the geopolitical balance of power to its own advantage and is demanding what I would describe as allegiance from many countries in its neighbourhood.
In this global political situation, I believe that Germany and Japan need to stand shoulder to shoulder because they share the same values. Our countries are too small to be able to call the shots on their own on the global stage. That is why we need to think about new paths these days.
Individually, each of us will continue to find it difficult to be a “rule maker” in a multipolar world. But this does not mean we want to content ourselves with the role of “rule takers”!
If we pool our strengths – and we can do so to a greater extent than we have done in the past – perhaps we can become something like “rule shapers”, who design and drive an international order that the world urgently needs.
We took a step towards this here in Tokyo today. Foreign Minister Kono and I have just agreed to coordinate our work even more closely and more often with each other in the future. However, we have also paved the way to even closer cooperation between our diplomats, state secretaries, directors and policy planning staff, and written and signed a joint declaration on these matters.
We want to develop a shared view of regional and global problems and then look together for solutions to them and put these ideas into practice. In doing so, we will build on shared values and the long-standing ties between our societies.
Hardly any other two countries that lie as far apart as Japan and Germany have had such similar histories in the past 150 years – with all the highs and lows that entailed.
Similarly to industrialisation in Germany, Japan underwent a development in the late 19th century that virtually catapulted it into the group of leading industrialised nations. One can certainly be proud here of this intellectual and political feat.
We Germans are also a little proud that German academics and statesmen and women played a role in this and that Germany developed in a similar way. For example, and I say this as a former Justice Minister, it still means a great deal to us that the Japanese legal system is closely based on the German system to this day.
Both our countries experienced the Second World War as a disaster that threatened their very survival and for us in Germany, that included a declaration of moral bankruptcy.
That was followed – in part thanks to the hand reached out by the western Allies – by truly meteoric economic growth. Our countries’ permanent focus on freedom, democracy and the rule of law was not a matter of course, but it is the foundation on which our partnership of shared values is based.
Free world trade is a cornerstone of this partnership. Japan and Europe benefit equally from this. That is why the new protectionism, which unfortunately is being discussed so much on the international stage, and the policy of America First behind it, poses a challenge to both of us.
The right answer to this was provided by the Economic Partnership Agreement signed last week between the European Union and Japan. I regard this as a milestone because not only will it ultimately create far closer coordination between us and far more new opportunities, but also the largest free trade zone in the world.
We are setting standards for global trade, for example in environmental and climate issues, consumer protection, adherence to social standards and competition law.
And I hope that we will soon reach an agreement in the ongoing negotiations on improved investment protection and then also be able to set further new standards in this area.
That’s what I mean by the term “rule shaper” in quite practical terms.
However, it is perhaps even more important to send a signal both eastwards and westwards –
one that says that we don’t think of free trade as a zero-sum game. Trade with reliable rules creates prosperity for everyone at the end of the day.
Not only the US currently defines free trade somewhat differently right now. In China, our companies face obstacles time and again when attempting to gain access to markets.
Many complain about inadequate protection of intellectual property or forced technology transfer. I therefore hope that Japan and Europe will continue to fight against such trade practices together and that they will develop strategies and concepts for this. This is an area in which we also share many interests with the US. It therefore continues to be important to also focus on trilateral cooperation between Japan, the EU and the US wherever this is possible – in order to strengthen the international trade system and to keep the US on board.
Fair trade needs strong institutions at all levels – but, first and foremost, it needs the World Trade Organization. A number of things must be modernised at the Organization in order to preserve the WTO.
I’m thinking here, for example, of modern rules for digital trade and for dealing with state enterprises. Japan and Germany, which have already given this issue quite a bit of thought, can also act together as pioneers in this area.
Germany and Japan can and should also work far more closely together in their approach to artificial intelligence and the digitisation of our working and living environment.
Whether in Berlin or in Tokyo, people are asking themselves similar questions in all areas.
• Is my job still secure in this age of digitisation?
• Will artificial intelligence one day surpass the human mind?
• Which advantages does greater interconnectedness have, and where do its risks lie?
And we in Germany often ask ourselves why, when something new is at stake, discussions about the risks are always at the forefront of our minds before we have even properly assessed what the actual benefits are and where such developments can help us – and I mean everyone, and not just the few.
And this is why another focus of this trip to Japan is to seek answers to precisely these questions together with German and Japanese experts.
As much as Asia’s economic dynamism impresses us and as important as free world trade is, our perception of Asia must not be limited only to economic interests. I say this also with a pinch of self-criticism also with Europe’s policy on Asia of recent decades in mind.
On no other continent are global challenges as concentrated as in Asia.
Territorial conflicts such as the one in the South China Sea, the situation in the East China Sea and North Korea’s acquisition of nuclear arms threaten the entire international order. If we stand idly by and allow neighbouring countries to be intimidated or the rules of international law to be broken, then the order that we’re talking about here is actually already forfeit.
We will hold talks with the Korean Government in Seoul tomorrow. We also share a commitment to free trade and a rules-based world with our partner Korea.
North Korea’s nuclear aspirations have represented a fundamental challenge to this world order for quite some time already. The preservation of the nuclear order isn’t just a regional issue, but a matter of survival for humanity at large.
President Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong Un in Singapore was a first and, to my mind, welcome step away from the escalation of the previous year in particular. However, of course, further steps must be taken towards a complete, irreversible and verifiable denuclearisation of North Korea – we were in agreement on this issue in our talks here in Tokyo today.
Only once North Korea has demonstrably returned to the realm of international law, only then will discussions and talks surrounding an easing of sanctions be on the table at all. If we were to take a different approach to this, then we would prematurely reward a country that has already violated international law countless times, and indeed acquired nuclear weapons in this way in the first place. This would send the wrong message, and one that would, above all, resonate well beyond East Asia.
We are prepared to do what we can to help find a solution here. We have gained experience in this area, for instance in the complex nuclear talks with Iran in recent years.
At the end of the day, the aim of these talks was, essentially, to prevent nuclear armament with a transparency regime that was unique to the world. And, by the way, our commitment to the agreement with Iran sends a signal to North Korea and other countries that giving up the pursuit of nuclear weapons is worth it.
At the end of the day, each and every international order is based on one thing, namely on trust. And trust only emerges when treaties are upheld and when promises made today aren’t broken again tomorrow.
I firmly believe that Germany and Japan are committed to this type of reliability. The approaches that we take here are also similar.
• In the United Nations, the G7 and the G20, we are consistently committed to a future based on the multilateral world order.
• To us, political solutions and civilian crisis management belong together, and this is always in the foreground for us in the area of conflict management.
• We are continuing, and this is also on the agenda of our talks today, to promote arms control.
• And it is perhaps also Germany and Japan’s appreciation of clear rules that explains why we advocate resolving conflicts with recourse to international law time and again. Not everyone sees things this way these days. This applies to both the conflict in Ukraine and to the recognition of international arbitration rulings, for example in the South China Sea.
I am delighted, and this is something else that we talked about today, that Japan intends to put such foreign policy issues on the agenda as next year’s holder of the G20 Presidency.
When Germany joins the UN Security Council for two years at the beginning of 2019, we will therefore liaise closely with Japan with respect to foreign and security policy issues. After all, and I want to make a point by saying this here in Tokyo, we believe that Japan should be part of a UN Security Council that reflects the world order of the 21st century. We remain committed to such a modern Security Council together as the G4 along with Brazil and India.
There are many genuine success stories in the area of German-Japanese cooperation, and we intend to build on these. Some must be called to mind once again.
• In Afghanistan, both of our countries have helped to rebuild the country. We can build on this when it comes to stabilising other crisis regions.
• In Syria and its neighbouring countries, Japan and Germany are playing a major role in helping to alleviate at least a measure of the plight of the people in the war zone and the suffering of refugees with their humanitarian assistance. It is more important than ever to continue this work, particularly when other donors are scaling back their support, which is regrettably the case at the present.
• Germany and Japan have assumed significantly more responsibility for stability and security in Africa in recent years. We intend, and this was another item on our agenda today, to continue down this path with all due resolve. There is, unfortunately, a great need for this in Africa.
Germany and Japan have the potential to be at the heart of an alliance of multilateralists.
An alliance of countries
• that defends existing rules together and continues to develop them where this is necessary;
• that shows solidarity when international law is trampled underfoot on each others’ doorsteps;
• that fills the vacuum that has continued to emerge following the withdrawal of others from many parts of the world stage;
• that is committed to climate protection as one of the greatest challenges facing humankind;
• that assumes responsibility in international organisations together – financially, but also politically.
We need such an alliance particularly in Asia, which, although it is closely interlinked economically, is also often divided by political differences. An alliance of multilateralists would also help to support all of the countries in this region that may find it even more difficult than Germany or Japan when it comes to actually making their voices heard.
I’m thinking here of the Pacific island states, for example. Free trade, open shipping routes and the fight against climate change also impact them – often in a most existential way. And when you talk to representatives of these countries, then they tell you very convincingly what the nexus between climate change and security is, where they live.
Ladies and gentlemen, Germany and Japan are therefore in agreement on many issues and their strategic approach is also most cooperative. With our visit to Tokyo today, we wanted to reiterate that we stand ready to support our Japanese friends as partners. It is good that similar sentiments have also been expressed by the Japanese side.
ありがとうございますMany thanks once again that we have the opportunity to combine our visit and our political talks here today with an event such as this. I firmly believe that a mistake is all to often made that, regrettably, is encountered everywhere, namely that those with political responsibility, even when they share the same views, often, unfortunately, only talk to one another. And I consider it to be an essential part of political work that, once you have managed to reach political agreement with friends, to get a project off the ground or pursue a strategy, that you must attend to one thing straight away – namely a minimum level of acceptance for what you stand for in the society in which you live. And perhaps we were able to contribute to this with this event today.
Thank you very much. I am looking forward to our discussions.