Asia Society Policy Salon Tokyo | Ambassadors' Circle with the Japanese Ambassador to Australia
H.E. YAMAGAMI Shingo
May 25, 2021 — H. E. Shingo Yamagami, Japanese Ambassador to Australia, gives an outside-in perspective of the future of Asia, joining the audience online from Canberra. He candidly describes how cooperation between Japan and Australia contributes to the Indo-Pacific region, the effect of the Quad, as well as the region's relationship with China. Yamagami was joined in conversation by Jesper Koll, policy committee chair at Asia Society Japan Center, and Robert Feldman, senior advisor, Morgan Stanley MUFG Securities Co., Ltd. (55 min., 50 sec.)
The Indo-Pacific Region
Many people in Australia are unsure about whether they are an outsider or an insider to the Asia region, as they define themselves to be Asians or Europeans, depending on the context, whether it be the AFC Asian Cup or the Eurovision song contest. However, there is no denying that Australia, and Japan, share a deep regional connection.
Geographically, Japan and Australia are situated between the Indian and Pacific oceans, right at the heart of the Indo-Pacific, where our future rests. As Prime Minister Morrison has rightly pointed out, the Indo-Pacific is home to two-thirds of global growth over the last decade to more than half the world’s population.
Prosperity Through Rules-Based Trade through “Free and Open Indo-Pacific”
Our shared commitment to a rules-based trading system, peace and stability and emissions reduction position Japan and Australia as natural partners. We have built up our prosperity in the Indo-Pacific, through our mutual commitment to a rules based-trading system, and seek to ensure that our entire region enjoys such prosperity. For over half a decade, Japan has been pursuing a foreign policy based on the vision of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” supported by a rules-based trading order. It was in this context that Japan together with Australia became the driving force behind the establishment of APEC. It is also together that we are working towards the expansion of the CPTPP, as well as towards reforming the WTO. In bilateral talks last year, Japan and Australia delivered a strong message to the world: trade should never be used as a tool to apply political pressure and that to do so undermines trust and prosperity. This will underlie our position on the importance of a rules-based trading system for decades to come.
Vision on Peace and Stability in the Region
We know, however, that we cannot envisage prosperity without peace and stability. At the milestone first leaders’ meeting of the Quad, less than two months ago Japan and Australia, along with the US and India, agreed to support principles such as the rule of law, freedom of navigation and overflight, peaceful settlement of disputes, democratic values and territorial integrity. As a natural consequence of the deep trust built up through decades of trade and investment, Japan and Australia’s relationship has been elevated to a Special Strategic Partnership, and it has diversified to include cooperation in defense and intelligence. Today, Japan and Australia regularly participate in joint exercises. Furthermore, negotiations on the Australia–Japan Reciprocal Access Agreement have now entered their final phase.
Facing the Pandemic Together
The health of a nation being essential for peace and stability, Japan has made equal vaccine access for our region a priority. Japan has been committed to the global initiative, the COVAX AMC, to ensure that the world’s developing countries, including those in the Indo-Pacific, have access to safe and effective vaccines. Together with our Quad partners, Japan will strengthen and assist our neighbors through the provision of at least one billion doses of vaccines.
The first-ever leaders’ meeting of the Quad identified emissions reduction as a priority for the Indo-Pacific region. With a long history of economic complementarity in the resources sector, Japan and Australia are natural partners in the global fight against climate change. A rapidly emerging solution to decarbonization is hydrogen. An all-Japanese multi-industry consortium, is leading the world’s first global hydrogen supply chain project, HESC, which uses pioneer technologies to produce and transport hydrogen from Victoria’s Latrobe Valley to Kobe.
In conclusion, Ambassador Yamagami reiterated that Japan and Australia’s shared values and strategic interests in areas such as trade, defense, health and emissions reduction have situated the two nations as natural partners in supporting our region. He also expressed his determination to do his utmost to strengthen bilateral ties and uphold shared values between Japan and Australia in order to promote a Free and Open Indo-Pacific, which will benefit the entire global community as an international public good.
Mr. Koll started the fireside chat by asking whether the Quad would be the primary force of reshaping the Indo-Pacific. Ambassador commented that he saw the Quad as a vehicle to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific that was open-ended. The conversation then extended to whether Japan was a rule-shaper or rule-taker, rather than a rule-maker. The Ambassador highlighted several incidents in which Japan has played a pivotal role, including the rare earths trade dispute, CPTPP and APEC. Discussion on how to address the rise of China is common international interest, the Ambassador underscored the importance of incorporating rising of powers into the web of rules and international norms, and that we needed a certain amount of deterrence in order not to escalate tension.
Highly commending the hydrogen supply chain project between the two countries, Mr. Feldman asked about the state of scientific cooperation between Japan and Australia in hydrogen technologies. Mentioning the broad array of hydrogen projects across Australia, including both green and blue hydrogen, green ammonia and mobility applications, Ambassador Yamagami stressed that a hydrogen economy was our future and that the two countries were focusing their utmost efforts in materializing it.
Then, asked about the digital transformation in Japan and Australia, Ambassador Yamagami pointed out that the two countries have been committed to realizing “data free flow with trust,” by engaging in specifying rules in fora such as the WTO. Another commonality between the two countries is our emphasis on digital agency. Furthermore, on the business level, Japanese corporations are supporting the development of a smart city in Western Sydney.
In terms of the differences seen in the management of COVID-19, the Ambassador noted that Australia was outstanding in how it has handled the pandemic by implementing some of the strictest quarantine measures in the world. However, we should also remember that in Australia, one-fifth of Japan’s population are spread across area that is 20 times larger; and therefore the two countries are dealing with completely different human flow. There is much to be mutually learned from our experiences, as Japan’s voluntary infection prevention measure are gradually being recognized as effective in Australia, too.
When the floor was invited to join the conversation, topics included how Chinese sanctions on Australia should be addressed, ASEAN’s role amid the rise of the Quad, the next stage of Indo-Pacific regional economic integration and players, importing Australian wine, and the upcoming Olympic games.
About Ambassadors’ Circle 2021
Asia Society Japan Center’s “Ambassadors’ Circle”, is an initiative launched in 2020 to forge deeper links and stimulate exchange between our Founding Members and Tokyo-based Ambassadors. In these turbulent times, a first-hand understanding of how different countries and their leaders interpret the evolving challenges in Asia in general, the US-China dynamics in particular, is more important than ever. The “Ambassadors’ Circle” aims to involve you in this mission.
Ambassadors’ Circle is mostly for members only, but we occasionally make it available for public to attend online. Please keep an eye on upcoming events. For more information about becoming a member, please contact us.