Democratic countries around the world must collaborate to contribute to protecting a liberal world order, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono (SFS ’86) said at an event Sept. 28 in Gaston Hall.
Before becoming foreign minister, Kono served in the Japanese House of Representatives, where he was a member of five standing committees, including those on economy, health, labor and welfare, trade and industry, the environment, and finance. He also held several leadership positions in the House, serving as Parliamentary Secretary for Public Management, Director of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Assistant Secretary General of the Liberal Democratic Party and Deputy Secretary General of the LDP.
In 2015, he joined Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet as the Chairman of the National Public Safety Commission. Abe appointed Kono to his current position as foreign minister in August 2017.
The event was the second in the Lloyd George Centennial Lectures program, which began last February to celebrate the upcoming centennial anniversary of the School of Foreign Service in 2019. After delivering his lecture, Kono discussed international affairs in the Indo-Pacific region with Michael Green, Director of the Georgetown University Asian Studies Program, and students in the Master of Arts in Asian Studies program.
Japan, in cooperation with the United States, needs to step up to defend a liberal international system that prioritizes democratic values, such as human rights and representative government, Kono said.
“The United States has shouldered the burden of this liberal international order in quite a big way. I think it’s time for us to adjust the burden sharing,” Kono said. “And that’s what President Trump is asking, and I think we are ready to do that.”
Kono also called on other democratic countries in Europe, as well as Australia and New Zealand, to assume responsibility for advocating for global democracy.
“Since the end of the World War II, we’ve benefited from this liberal international order,” Kono said. “I think Japan, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and other countries need to shoulder a little bit more so that the U.S. burden will be less.”
The international political order based on democratic values now faces challenges that threaten global prosperity, Kono said, referring to unilateral attempts around the world that pose a risk to the current political atmosphere.
“What has underpinned the stability and the prosperity of the world is the international order based on fundamental values such as democracy, freedom, human rights, rule of law,” Kono said. “That international order is now being challenged by unilateral attempts to change the status quo through coercion, military or economically.”
Japan will cooperate with China as long as the latter commits to maintaining democratic standards of government, such as being transparent in government actions, he said.
“There is a great potential for collaboration in infrastructure development in line with international standards, such as transparency, openness, the financial soundness of receiving nations,” Kono said.
Japanese foreign policy towards Russia should also focus on cooperation in order to establish better security in the region, he said.
“We should not forget that Russia is an indispensable stakeholder to address a number of global challenges, whether you like it or not,” Kono said. “I strongly believe the improvement of the relationship with Russia could change the course of the current stalemate in various areas in diplomacy.”
Kono said that his experience as an undergraduate at Georgetown prepared him to become foreign minister. He recounted stories of his seminar with then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and advised Georgetown students to work towards becoming global leaders.
“This is a great place for you to prepare for your future. I encourage you to combine thought and action to develop yourself as a global leader,” Kono said. “Every experience I had here made me who I am today as a Foreign Minister.”