9 March 2015
Ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to thank you very much for the friendly introduction and for the opportunity to be your guest here today. It is an honour to me to be hosted here by Asahi Shimbun. You are one of the most widely circulated newspapers in the world, and your publishing house is also rich in tradition, with a history extending back to the early days of Japanese-German relations.
Exactly 142 years ago today, on 9 March 1873, what was known as the Iwakura Mission arrived in Berlin. This Japanese delegation headed by Ambassador Extraordinary Tomomi Iwakura undertook an extensive educational journey in order to gain greater insight into the economic, political and social life of European countries. In my view the Iwakura Mission is, in a manner of speaking, exemplary of Japanese open-mindedness and thirst for knowledge – a tradition the country has maintained to this day. This tradition is one of the foundations of the host of close ties between the German and Japanese people.
Whether in business or science, art or culture, there is no other country in Asia with which Germany maintains such intense exchange. This exchange is supported, for example, by 60 town twinning partnerships and more than 110 Japanese-German and German-Japanese societies in our countries. The Junior Sports Club and the many students and university graduates who take part in the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme are also especially notable bridge-builders between our countries.
Among the many institutions that stimulate exchange between our countries, I would especially like to single out the Japanese-German Center Berlin. This centre was founded 30 years ago at the initiative of Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone and Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Many conferences, cultural events and exchange programmes have since been carried out. The JGCB also helped organise today’s event. For this reason, I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to all the people at this centre who are doing outstanding work in the service of lively Japanese-German dialogue.
Ladies and gentlemen, the day after tomorrow is the fourth anniversary of the major Tohoku earthquake on 11 March 2011. The earthquake triggered a tremendously devastating tsunami and failures at several nuclear power plants, especially the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The terrible images of the destruction and suffering caused by this threefold catastrophe in 2011 are still vivid in my mind. Our deepest condolences go out to all those who lost loved ones in this disaster. Our sympathy is also with those who survived but have still not been able to return to their homes. I greatly admire the spirit of community with which the Japanese people have tackled the reconstruction after the earthquake.
Destruction and reconstruction are also key words for 2015 in another way, as this year we are commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. To echo the words of former Federal President Richard von Weizsäcker, who died just a few weeks ago, the end of the war in Europe on 8 May 1945 was a day of liberation – liberation from Nazi barbarism, from the horrors of the Second World War that had been unleashed by Germany, and from the betrayal of all civilised values in the form of the Shoah.
We Germans will never forget the hand of reconciliation that was extended to us after all the suffering that our country had brought to Europe and the world. We can count ourselves lucky that so much trust was placed in the nascent Federal Republic at that time. This is what it made it possible for us to succeed in finding our way back into the international community. Trust was also what cleared the way to German unity for us four decades later after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the East-West confrontation in 1989-1990.
Today, 70 years after the end of the Second World War and 25 years after the end of the Cold War, we in Germany can – just like Japan – look back on developments that have taken a remarkable course. As prosperous democracies, our states and societies are deeply marked by the separation of powers, the rule of law, and the principles of the social market economy. Our economic strengths are rooted in our capacity for reform, competition and innovation. As trade- and export-oriented nations, our free and open civil societies thrive on a globalised economy. Germany and Japan are thus partners in global responsibility for a liberal, standards-based world order of free, open states and societies.
But this liberal world order is not to be taken for granted. On the contrary, it is threatened. By annexing Crimea in violation of international law and supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine, Russia has violated the territorial integrity of Ukraine, which it clearly committed itself to protecting in the Budapest Memorandum in 1994. Ukraine, like every other state, has the right to determine its own path with full sovereignty. I would like to thank the Japanese Government very much for the fact that we are taking this position together and have also imposed economic sanctions as a necessary response.
But we are also focused on a diplomatic solution. This is a reason why I am working together with French President François Hollande, all of our European and transatlantic partners, and Japan to see that the agreements that were made a few weeks ago in Minsk to overcome the crisis are truly implemented. Free local elections in eastern Ukraine and unimpeded Ukrainian control of the country’s own borders would, by the way, not only help Ukraine and enable it to regain its territorial integrity, but also lend new impetus to the partnership with Russia. Of course, the Crimea issue cannot simply remain unresolved.
Japan and Germany have shared interests when it comes to enforcing the strength of international law – including stability in other regions, such as waterways and trade routes in the East and South China Seas, the security of which we believe is threatened by maritime territorial disputes. These waterways connect Europe with this part of the world, among other things. Their security therefore also affects us in Europe. In order to reach a viable solution, I believe it is very important to make use of regional forums such as ASEAN in addition to bilateral efforts, and also to overcome differences on the basis of international maritime law: including both smaller and larger partners in multilateral processes and basing potential agreements on internationally recognised law ensures transparency and reliability. And transparency and reliability are vital requirements for preventing misunderstandings, prejudices and crises.
In our world, however, we are also confronted with conflicts where the willingness to enter into dialogue runs up against limits because fundamental values and human rights are violated in an atrocious manner. We are experiencing this with the international terrorism that is raging in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and large swathes of Nigeria. The terrorist organisations IS and Boko Haram threaten to annihilate everyone and everything that does not fit with their own maniacal claims to power. IS’s horrific murder of two Japanese hostages, the assassination of cartoonists and journalists of the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo, and the gruesome attack on customers at a kosher supermarket in Paris – these and unfortunately many other barbaric crimes strengthen us more than ever in our determination to stand up resolutely together for freedom and open-mindedness. Such attacks make us, including Germany and Japan, stand even closer together in the fight against hatred and contempt for humanity.
That is why we are using the German G7 Presidency as an opportunity to stanch the flow of funding and combatants into international terrorism. Above all, finance ministers are engaged with this project. We are politically and militarily supporting all those who are opposing IS terror on the ground, especially the new Iraqi Government and the Kurdish Regional Government. Together with Japan, we are also helping to relieve the suffering which refugees are experiencing because of IS terror. This is our humanitarian responsibility, and fulfilling this responsibility is also in our own security policy interest.
Both of these approaches were also decisive in Germany’s and Japan’s engagement in Afghanistan. Together, we built up and assisted Afghan security forces. We helped create a school system and a health system, and we helped build new roads. On the whole we can say that life in Afghanistan has improved since 2001, even if the everyday security situation for people in Afghanistan remains unsatisfactory. We have, however, achieved the most important goal: today an international terrorist threat no longer emanates from Afghanistan.
Beyond this, Japan and Germany also agree on the task of containing the threat posed by nuclear weapons. The year 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the dreadful atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The memory of these horrors has given rise to a responsibility for the future: such a thing must never happen again. That is why Japan and Germany are working tirelessly for greater disarmament and arms control.
This is also why we are pursuing the shared goal of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. All doubts about the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear programme must be cleared up. The talks to this end are currently in a decisive phase. What is at stake for us is not just mitigating a source of regional conflict, but also the larger question of how we can prevent an arms race and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. In this context, of course, North Korea also has to be mentioned.
An existential question like this one shows how important international partnerships’ and organisations’ credibility and capacity to act are. That is why Japan and Germany have joined Brazil and India in advocating the strengthening of the United Nations – including reforms to the Security Council – even if progress admittedly proceeds at a very slow pace. We are, however, convinced that every region of the world should participate appropriately in Security Council decisions so that we can preserve a chance for peace and stability in the world.
Within the circle of G7 countries, too, we face global challenges, and we do so – this is a hallmark of the G7 – on a foundation of shared values and convictions. In the coming year Japan will take over the G7 Presidency from Germany. That is why we, Japan and Germany, want to work hand in hand especially closely.
The areas of focus for the German G7 Presidency include international climate protection. I have singled out this example because the year 2015 will be especially significant for climate protection. In December the UN conference in Paris will determine whether we will be able to have an ambitious and binding climate treaty enter into force in 2020. That is why we want to work with our G7 partners to prepare initiatives that will show that the G7 states are ready to take on a leading role in low‑carbon development. We want to make clear that this does not mean having to sacrifice prosperity. Prosperity must be attained in a different way than it has been to date, but we need not forsake it. We want to advance relevant innovations around the world, and what we want to do above all in this pursuit is assist developing countries. In any event, I hope that the G7 summit in Germany in June will send a strong signal in support of the successful conclusion of the climate negotiations in Paris.
Closely connected with climate protection is the question of how we can ensure the most sustainable energy supply possible. To this end, we want to keep developing the G7 initiative for energy security. This is a matter of creating the most transparent and functional energy markets that are possible. It is also our aim to increase energy efficiency and thereby reduce energy costs.
Other themes of Germany’s G7 Presidency include health issues such as the lessons learnt from the Ebola epidemic and the topic of women’s independence and professional training in developing countries.
Cooperation between Japan and Germany in a multilateral framework is only one side of the coin. The other side, which is of course just as important, is our bilateral partnership. Because we face quite similar challenges, we can learn a lot from and with each other. One excellent example is the answers we are seeking for demographic shifts in our societies. We are grappling with very similar questions when it comes to this issue. How do we keep our social security systems effective without overburdening the younger generation? How can we create good living conditions in rural regions that are affected by depopulation? How do we keep an aging society dynamic and innovative? – I have just discussed this with scholars who are working intensely in Japanese-German research areas. – How do we secure the pool of skilled workers that we need in order to preserve our prosperity?
We in Germany are engaged with these and many other questions as part of the Federal Government’s demographic strategy. We are focusing, for example, on increasing the workforce participation of women, improving the compatibility of work and family, extending our working lifetimes, and attracting qualified employees from abroad. Freedom of movement in the European Union creates good opportunities for workers from other European countries to come to Germany. But workers from countries outside Europe are also interested, and we are improving immigration conditions for them.
Here in Japan, the Government is seeking to encourage women’s workforce participation under the slogan “Let Women Shine”. There is also a legislative package to introduce quotas for the proportion of women in businesses and public administration. In Germany, the Bundestag adopted such a law on Friday after lengthy discussion. A look at the statistics regarding women in leadership positions in companies in Germany and Japan shows that both countries still have some catching up to do. I am looking forward to speaking tomorrow with Japanese women in leadership positions about their experiences and career paths. What is clear is that demographic change makes fostering and harnessing the potential of professionals a key factor in the future success of our countries’ economies and thus also in the preservation of our high standard of living.
Germany and Japan have long been a part of the circle of internationally successful economic players. This commonality has created a lot of space for additional forms of Japanese-German cooperation. Of course, this is above all a matter for businesses. – I am pleased that a business delegation has accompanied me on this trip in order to potentially give fresh impetus to our economic collaborations. – The politicians must create the framework conditions for these activities. This means that remaining impediments to trade, investment and joint innovation should be cleared away as much as possible.
That is why the entire Federal Government and I are working to negotiate and sign the free trade agreement between Japan and the European Union as quickly as possible. – It has been our experience that mutual trade has increased through such agreements, which has created more jobs. – Both sides can particularly benefit from even closer collaboration in technologically sophisticated areas. The challenges associated with digitalisation will surely create a variety of future opportunities for us in this area.
It is no secret that the innovative strength and success of our economy are built on a foundation of education, science and research. It is only logical, then, for our two countries to cultivate lively exchange in these areas too. We have many relationships that have grown over the years. I have already mentioned my talks with scientists this morning. What came up in this conversation is that we must pay attention: Japan is surrounded by interesting countries such as South Korea, China and Vietnam, which are developing in a highly dynamic way. That is why we should be keen to intensify our research cooperation not only in our own respective regions but also across the great distance between Germany and Japan. I am firmly convinced that a lot of good things can come out of this, and good things can become even better. In areas such as renewable energy, marine and earth sciences and environmental research, there is no shortage of opportunities for even more intensive cooperation.
That is why I would be delighted if even more students and scholars from Japan were to become interested in spending time in Germany. Many classes and training programmes in Germany are now held in English, and do not necessarily require participants to learn German. Perhaps it is possible for Japanese businesses to place more emphasis on young professionals at the start of their careers being able to boast towards participation in exchange programmes at international universities. I believe this is important for the global orientation of research and ultimately also of development. Young people should understand spending time abroad as a help and not a hindrance to their careers.
I can report from the European Union that we have the ERASMUS exchange programme there, which leads many students to spend some of their time studying abroad. I believe that the positive developments and effects this brings greatly outweigh the time that is lost through studying abroad. In any event, I can say that Japanese students and scholars are very welcome in Germany – at least as welcome as the Iwakura Mission was in 1873. Now, like then, we want to retain our curiosity about one another; now, like then, we want to explore the world together. That is why I am pleased that today I not only have had the chance to speak to you, but also can now exchange opinions in a discussion with you.
Thank you very much for this opportunity to be your guest today.