State Secretary Miguel BERGER: 160 Years German-Japanese Friendship

There are more than 8,000 kilometers between Tōkyō and Berlin – yet there are many similarities between Japan and Germany. On the occasion of the anniversary, the State Secretary of the Federal Foreign Office Miguel Berger, who is also a member of the JDZB's Board of Executives, reflects on the relations between the two countries.

As State Secretary of the Federal Foreign Office, and member of the JDZB Board of Executives, I am very happy to see Germany and Japan celebrating 160 years of diplomatic relations. Our two countries first entered their long-lasting bond when Prussia and Japan signed a friendship, trade, and shipping agreement on 24 January 1862. In a first exchange, the Japanese “Takenouchi Mission” visited Berlin in 1962, and people watched in awe as the delegates paraded the streets of their city donning traditional Japanese clothing and samurai swords.

In the meantime, the initial sense of exoticism when regarding each other has given way to close, intense, and trusting relations, as we look back on a 160 year-tradition of cooperation and exchange in the areas of politics, economy, science, arts and culture, medicine, and philosophy. In spite of their geographic distance – 8,000 kilometers  lie  between  Tōkyō  and Berlin – Germany and Japan have a lot in common, giving their relations a firm footing. After the destruction and devastation of WWII, Japan and Germany have moved on to become stable democracies, and advanced industrial nations. Both strive for a world based on democratic values and free, rule-based economic exchange, a world in which peoples can live together in peace, relying on functioning multilateral structures, above all, the United Nations.
The lively exchange between our countries is not limited to their governments: In around 100 German-Japanese and Japanese-German societies, citizens regularly gather to discuss the challenges our countries are facing today. There are 56 town twinning schemes bringing together people from Frankfurt and Yokohama, Lübeck and Kawasaki, Cologne and Kyōto. In 1,600 university cooperation projects, German and Japanese students can gain insights into each other’s country and university system.

A stable long-term relationship between two countries may sometimes resemble a marriage right before its golden wedding anniversary. Like a good marriage, it requires dedication and fresh impulses to preserve its value over time. The similar challenges our countries are facing as globalization advances make this dedication all the more important. One aspect I am especially concerned about in this context is the need for reforms brought about by low birth rates and ageing societies. Driving forward digitization, cyber security, climate and environmental protection, and sustainable energy policies, while maintaining high standards of living is another area in which the third- and fourth-largest world economies can learn a lot from each other. In this context, the “Green Alliance” adopted by EU representatives and Prime Minister SUGA at the EU-Japan Summit on 27 May is a step in the right direction.
Last but not least, both our countries are struggling to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic. What can we learn from each other after a year-long fight? How can we prepare our young for the future in spite of the pandemic?

Internationally speaking – in the Indo-Pacific, and right here in Europe – we are facing major challenges in terms of security policy. With rivalries growing stronger, international rules and standards have increasingly come under pressure. As the power of the law clashes ever more fiercely with the laws of power, unilateral and protectionist tendencies are growing stronger. How can we successfully promote a rulebased world order under such difficult conditions?

In September 2020, the German government adopted guidelines aimed at strengthening relations with its partners in the Indo-Pacific and finding new ways to cooperate with them, because tomorrow’s world order largely depends on the imminent developments in this region. Are we facing the formation of new blocks? Will the region remain open to everybody? What government models will prevail? Democracy or authoritarianism, rule of law or government despotism? Germany is working towards a rule-based, inclusive Indo-Pacific it considers the best possible protection against hegemonial tendencies and the formation of new blocks.

In the face of these challenges, it is vital to intensify our dialogue with countries that share our values, above all, with Japan. In terms of security policy, we want to take a more active stance in the region. Our countries’ ministers of defense and foreign affairs, Foreign Minister Heiko MAAS and his Japanese counterpart MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister of Defence Annegret KRAMP-KARRENBAUER and her Japanese counterpart KISHI Nobuo, met last April to discuss these issues. In the summer, a German Navy frigate will be dispatched to the Indo-Pacific for six months aimed at monitoring North Korea and promoting rule-based order with a special focus on nuclear non-proliferation. In spite of, and because of, the Covid-19 pandemic that has dominated our lives over the past months, it is more important than ever to keep sustaining and nurturing our exchange on all levels.
Having become a central site of German-Japanese exchange and cooperation, the JDZB plays a major role in this context. Since its founding in 1985 at the initiative of then chancellor Helmut KOHL and Prime Minister NAKASONE Yasuhiro, the JDZB has added a new level of depth to German-Japanese cooperation in science, politics, economics and culture and given it a new, outstanding intellectual dimension. This year’s Japanese-German Forum at the end of May centered on issues including a fresh start for diplomatic relations with the US, German and Japanese strategies in the Indo-Pacific, as well as lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic, showing how the JDZB does not limit its range of topics to bilateral issues but puts German-Japanese relations in a global context. In this way, with its numerous events – in Berlin, Tōkyō, or online – the JDZB continues to keep people in Germany and Japan talking to each other, discussing the pressing issues of our time.

In the JDZB’s 36th year, the JDZB is making a fresh start as a significant site representing German-Japanese exchange, and facilitating encounters between the two countries’ people. This includes a new website, new business models and partnerships, and conceptual and organizational plans for a “JDZB of the Future”, to name but a few. I wish the JDZB’s Secretary General Dr. Julia MÜNCH and all its employees good spirits and a successful outcome for the renewal process and would like to thank all of you for your relentless efforts. It is thanks to its highly motivated employees from Japan and Germany that, in spite of all the changes the world has seen over the past three decades, the JDZB has been able to maintain its reputation as a point of contact for any questions concerning German-Japanese relations. I wish the JDZB all the best and hope you can continue to support and shape German-Japanese relations in the future!

Text: Miguel BERGER, State Secretary of the Federal Foreign Office
This text is extracted from the Issue of jdzb echo Nr. 135, June 2021.
Image rights: Federal Foreign Office
Translation: JDZB

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