Yasuo Fukuda: China Has Been Effective as World Struggles

Jan 26 , 2021

Yasuo Fukuda, Former Prime Minister of Japan.


Good morning, Mr. Tung Chee-hwa. I was pleased to receive your invitation to be here for this forum. One year has passed since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, but it hasn’t shown any signs of abating. Globally, it has led to more than 2.1 million deaths and nearly 100 million infections.

China has put in place effective anti-epidemic measures and sustained its economic growth. While the United States, Europe and Japan are slow to act, China has begun to increase its international influence around the world through mask diplomacy and vaccine diplomacy. There is no doubt that these initiatives have produced a very positive impact.

So how is Japan? By the end of 2020, the number of infections and deaths reached 230,000 and 3,000, respectively, both of which were small compared with many other countries. There was a general sense of optimism in the country. But since then, the number of infections and deaths started to surge. As of yesterday, the figures hit 360,000 and 5,000, respectively, an increase of 150 percent in less than a month. Social problems, such as strained medical resources, are emerging. But unlike Europe, the United States and China, Japan has not enforced the lockdown of cities, and the government still urges the public to wear masks as much as possible, avoid close contact with others, work from home and avoid crowds as well. The people are suffering because they can’t travel around, and their freedoms are curbed, and I fear that this situation is not sustainable.

The smooth transfer of power from Trump to Biden in the context of the pandemic is something the world is closely monitoring. This is not a domestic issue for people in Japan or China, but I believe many people have breathed a sigh of relief when President Biden took office. In fact, the new president faces both internal and external problems that need to be addressed, and these problems have something in common: They require coordination and stability to avoid division. Of course, that is our shared expectation. Why? Around the world, there are many issues and risks that have to be addressed immediately. None of them can be solved without the cooperation of the United States.

Of course, the United States must, first of all, respond to the alarming spread of the virus at home. Currently, the country has more than 25 million infections and more than 400,000 deaths.

I believe that for the time being the United States may not have the ability to help other countries or even contribute to the development of the whole world. It is undeniable, however, that it is a country that plays a leadership role in the world. It is also true that it should shoulder its due international responsibilities. When it comes to international trade and finance, its role is particularly prominent. In all countries, production and consumption have gradually shrunk in the midst of this pandemic, which rages on. All advanced countries, China excluded, record negative GDP growth, and the world economy is gradually shrinking. In addition, as countries have to invest heavily in pandemic control, their fiscal situations have not improved, and this may be a drag on their economic development in the days to come.

In addition, diplomacy is another sector that we can’t afford to neglect, especially the relationship between China and the United States. How will President Biden and President Xi develop China-U.S. relations? And the world is focused on the impressive economic growth in China. According to several economic research institutes, in 2027, seven years from now, China’s GDP is projected to be equivalent to that of the United States, and their combined GDP may exceed 40 percent of the global total.

By then, of course, both countries will have assumed enormous responsibilities on the world stage. What roles will they play by then? The world will have to wait and see.

Trade frictions between China and the United States need to be addressed as soon as possible. But, how? In addition to trade issues, many immediate issues, including diplomacy and security, need to be fixed. In fact, numerous issues need to be resolved or negotiated on by the two countries. As major countries in the world, China and the United States also account for a large share of the world economy. As a result, the resolution of their problems will produce a positive and far-reaching impact on both countries and, more important, on the entire world. Both countries need to call for other nations to join their efforts and play leadership roles.

What are other major issues that we face right now? Global warming, climate change, shortages of food and resources, exploration of social and economic development pathways, reduction of the wealth gap and elimination of discrimination. Also included are global market liquidity and nuclear disarmament. But, unfortunately, countries all over the world are too busy with pandemic control to address medium- and long-term problems and problems outside their borders. This is a reality that we have to face now.

At today’s forum, the former prime minister of Canada, Mr. Chretien delivered a speech. For many years, he has been working on the global issues I mentioned just now. He is also an active member of the IAC, that is the InterAction Council, also known as the OB Summit. Of course, Mr. Tung Chee-hwa has also done much for the IAC. This organization brings together 20 to 30 former world leaders and holds a summit every year. Its founder is Takeo Fukuda, former Prime Minister of Japan. From 1983 to 2014, Takeo Fukuda and Helmut Schmidt, former chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, presided over the summit. And the outcomes of the summit were presented to global leaders.

Why did we establish this council? Back then [1983], the world faced many issues. The world economy had begun to slow down after the oil crisis, and the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in confrontation, resulting in a massive arms race. At the same time, the population explosion in countries around the world had a negative impact on the economy. What could be done to solve these problems? To find the answers, we discussed the problems in a thorough and effective manner at our annual summit.

Today, we also face many global challenges, including how to achieve more balanced development across the world. The United Nations has set the Sustainable Development Goals. If these goals are achieved, I believe that all countries can grow together and thrive together. The CCIEE also has an important role to play in this process. I believe that the topics we discuss in the future will expand into more areas and that we can engage in more in-depth discussions. Also, I hope that in addition to old politicians like us, more young people will join our discussions.

That is all for my presentation. I am looking forward to your insights. Thank you, and thank you for your indulgence.