USJC 2022: Morning Plenary

The emcee, Ms. Yuko Kaifu (President, JAPAN HOUSE Los Angeles), began the morning plenary session by welcoming Mr. Noriyuki Shikata, Cabinet Secretary for Public Affairs in the Prime Minister’s Office, to deliver a message from Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

Mr. Shikata shared about his own experience, dating back to 2005, attending some of the initial discussions around the idea of establishing of the U.S.-Japan Council. Since then, the U.S.-Japan Council has evolved into a major pillar of the U.S.-Japan relationship, even despite the tribulations of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and the COVID-19 pandemic. Mr. Shikata then shared the message from Prime Minister Kishida.

At the state funeral held for the late former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Vice President Kamala Harris and Prime Minister Kishida vowed to continue close coordination towards strengthening the U.S.-Japan alliance and realizing a Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP). Additionally, President Biden visited Japan in May and, together with Prime Minister Kishida, recognized the rich history of contributions and cultural achievements of Japanese Americans. They agreed to have leaders of the next generation of Japanese Americans be deeply involved in the future of U.S.-Japan cooperation. Prime Minister Kishida promised to continue working to strengthen Japan’s relationship with Japanese Americans and the United States, Japan’s most important alliance partner.

Ambassador Rahm Emanuel then began his remarks by stating that there is no greater relationship and friendship than that between the United States and Japan. While the last 30 to 40 years were a time of alliance protection, the next 30 years will be a time of “alliance projection” amidst the modernizing relationship between the two countries. Many people tend to focus on this from a security standpoint, but it is fundamentally based upon human relationships, friendships, values, and interests. Security includes a high level of economic engagement, and the United States and Japan have been one another’s largest direct foreign investor for the last three years and counting. There is no better purpose—and no better time—to work together. Ambassador Emanuel emphasized that our ultimate goal should be to create a better world for our children to inherit, and the U.S.-Japan relationship is poised to work through intense challenges and realize a future we can be proud of.

Following this, Governor of Tokyo Yuriko Koike shared her opening remarks. She emphasized the importance of cooperation between Japan and the United States to work together for a liberal international order. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is taking various actions to work towards a sustainable and inclusive society. These actions include working closely with U.S. cities including New York City and Los Angeles to find solutions to urban issues. The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games were a source of worldwide inspiration, but also showcased the world should strive toward sustainable societies. Various efforts are underway in Tokyo to boost sustainable finance, focusing on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investment. Global events are planned for 2023 that will promote open innovation with startups and generate new ideas for a sustainable urban vision. In closing, Governor Koike shared the concept of “Shin Gi Tai” from martial arts, which calls for the necessity for a balance of mind, skill, and body. In the context of leadership, these can be likened to “determination of spirit,” “skill or technology,” and “systems.” Given the myriad challenges in today’s world, it is important to refine this “Shin Gi Tai” and move towards a brighter future for cities and the world.

Ms. Kaifu next introduced the plenary dialogue, “Leveraging Subnational Action to Solve Global Problems,” and invited the moderator and panelists onto the stage.

The moderator, Dr. Sheila A. Smith (John E. Merow Senior Fellow for Asia-Pacific Studies, Council on Foreign Relations), noted that policymakers play an important role, but even more important is the role of citizens who respond to those decisions. Then, turning to the theme of reconnecting, she began by asking Governor of Hawai’i David Ige to describe the work he does to connect the people of Hawai’i and Japan. Governor Ige first noted that the visitor industry is the number one industry in Hawai’i, and Japan is the most important international source of visitors. So, there is a big focus on marketing to encourage Japanese visitors to spend more time in Hawai’i and return. Japanese visitors are very respectful to native Hawai’ian culture and traditions, so much so that there are more hula dancers and ukulele players in Japan than in the state of Hawai’i. Cultural exchange is an important part of the Hawai’i-Japan relationship.

Dr. Smith next asked Mayor of Houston Sylvester Turner how the people of Houston are connecting with Japan. Mayor Turner explained that Houston has had a sister city relationship with Chiba City in Japan for the last 50 years, and the Houston Ballet brought a large company to celebrate the occasion. Japan is Houston’s fourth largest trading partner, a direct flight to Houston started in 2015, and companies principally located in Japan have expanded to Houston. Plans are underway to construct a high-speed train from Houston to Dallas using Japanese technology. Mayor Turner also noted that there was an ongoing trade mission with the Greater Houston Partnership visiting Japan, focusing on how to strengthen economic and energy ties with Japan.

The discussion next turned to executive decision making. Dr. Smith noted that both panelists have been faced with numerous federally declared disasters during their terms in office, then asked Governor Ige about his role as a problem solver and the value of exchanging best practices. Governor Ige explained that as a governor, he is able to impact the lives of citizens daily, as legislation is not required to solve problems. There are many similar challenges in different states, and while lessons can be learned, ultimately the solutions will differ. Mayor Turner shared that his work happens on the ground level. Politics takes the back seat when there are streets that need to be paved. Houston has faced seven federally declared disasters in seven years. As the energy capital of the world, Houston worked together with the energy sector and business community to come up with the Resilient Houston plan in 2020, and its Climate Action Plan, to adapt for the future.

Dr. Smith then asked the panelists how to balance the need to act on climate change and make cities more sustainable. Mayor Turner said the goal of cities and states is to build stronger and more resilient communities. Houston must lead the energy transition and focus on renewables. As of July 2020, Houston purchased more renewables than any city in the United States, and it continues to work with large energy companies on sustainable efforts.

Governor Ige noted that Hawai’i was the first state in the United States to set the goal of having 100% of its energy come from renewable sources. The goal was set in 2015, and since then, 12 other states have followed suit, recognizing the urgency of the climate crisis. Hawai’i has seen the impacts of climate change, with 40 federally declared emergencies in the past eight years. Hawai’i was the first state to embrace the goals of the Paris Agreement in law, and in 2018 to recognize a net negative goal. Hawai’i is pursuing policy and taking action to work towards this.

Dr. Smith asked if Governor Ige has conversations with the governor of Okinawa, to think about island communities and their particular challenges. Governor Ige said Hawai’i has executed several bilateral agreements with island communities including with Okinawa. The Pacific Island Conference of Leaders exchanges best practices and advice for dealing with impacts. Island communities are the canaries in the coal mine when it comes to climate change, so it is vital to take aggressive action to address climate change, while also highlighting the economic opportunities therein.

Mayor Turner stressed that all stakeholders must be at the table to achieve climate action objectives. The energy sector, community, and municipalities need to all be at the table. Houston is a part of the Climate Mayors, a bipartisan network of 474 U.S. mayors, the Resilient Cities Network, and the World Energy Cities Partnership, which includes Kobe, Japan. Decarbonization comes up in each conversation with corporate executives in Japan. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions must be done in a way that is economically sensible and provides energy abundance. At a time when many people are trying to weaponize energy, we must be prudent to address climate change in a resilient way.

Dr. Smith asked Governor Ige about cooperation with mayors to realize his vision as a governor. Governor Ige explained that he regularly meets with all the mayors in Hawai’i to discuss challenges and facilitate ongoing discussion. Including all stakeholders at the table is the way to find the best solutions in the energy transition.

Commenting on his situation, Mayor Turner highlighted the importance of alignment within the federal, state, and local governments. Local leaders must work through or around problems. Not everyone will be on the same page today, but it is important to keep communication lines open, build relationships, and find win-wins. The achievements of Houston would not be possible without policies from the state and federal level. To this point, Governor Ige added that he often agrees with mayors because both sides understand that fixating on disagreement does not accomplish the job. To this, Mayor Turner mentioned that it does not matter who gets the credit, as long as the work gets done.

The discussion next turned towards the future outlook of the U.S.-Japan partnership, and Dr. Smith asked the panelists about their thoughts on building the next generation in the U.S.-Japan space. Governor Ige noted that the First Lady of Hawai’i has been a champion for international student exchange. For students, the more global their perspectives, the better prepared they will be. Six prefectures in Japan have a sister relationship with the state of Hawai’i, and efforts are ongoing to expand student exchanges. Hawai’i has an important role to play in the U.S.-Japan bilateral relationship. Mayor Turner mentioned the Youth Ambassadors Program that is part of the Chiba sister city relationship with Houston, which has been ongoing for over 40 years. He also noted that the Houston Ballet members visiting Japan are young and excited, and will want to return in the future. Cultural exchanges are very important. Visiting Japan for the first time himself, Mayor Turner stressed the importance of entering youth into exchanges sooner to expand their worldviews. It is easy to dislike people or things you do not know, but it is difficult to dislike and work against a friend.

Dr. Smith noted that the overwhelming enthusiasm for the U.S.-Japan partnership is defined by people who have friends, colleagues, and family on either side. To this point, Governor Ige said that young people need the opportunities to get to know each other. Young people from Japan and Hawai’i can relate to one another easily. Digital tools, in addition to travel and experience, can teach them how we have more in common than not. Mayor Turner mentioned that Houston has an annual Anime Matsuri, where tens of thousands of attendees gather to dress up in costume and appreciate Japanese culture. These types of events make a difference for young people.

Finally, Dr. Smith asked the panelists what kind of work would be valuable to the U.S.-Japan relationship. Governor Ige explained that NGOs and other non-government entities play a crucial role, including in strengthening Hawai’i’s sister state relationships and seeking business and education partners. Building people-to-people connections makes the governing aspect successful. Mayor Turner said it is important for people to come together. Elected leaders have titles, but they are only representatives of those they serve. Civic leaders, business leaders, and other stakeholders are the ones who drive change. Mayor Turner encouraged all attendees to recognize their value to the U.S.-Japan relationship, as each person playing their role will make it possible to create a better world to turn over to the next generations.