Bridges: How would you describe the current relationship between Japan and the United Kingdom (after Brexit) in terms of culture, business and trade?
Ambassador Hayashi: The year 2021 has certainly turned out to be a highly significant one for both Japan and the United Kingdom. As a new economic framework after Brexit, the Japan – United Kingdom Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) came into effect at the beginning of the year. It has provided both Japanese and British businesses with the predictability and legal stability to enable them to continue their activities smoothly. In fact, we have witnessed many instances of new investment after Brexit. I am confident that Japanese companies will continue and even expand their active engagement with the United Kingdom economy.
As for sport and culture, Japan and the United Kingdom reaffirmed their strong ties and friendship through the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. The Embassy of Japan in the United Kingdom received a great number of encouraging comments from all over Britain expressing praise and appreciation that the Games had been delivered under difficult circumstances caused by the pandemic. Just before the Paralympic Games started in September, I participated in the flame lighting ceremony for the torch held at Stoke Mandeville here in the United Kingdom, which is where the Paralympics originated. Talking with those involved made me realise the powerful impact of the Paralympic Games on people with regard to the importance of diversity.
Bridges: Tell our readers about the ‘Japan-United Kingdom Season of Culture’ and the role the Embassy plays to strengthen the relationship between the two countries.
Ambassador Hayashi: The Japan-United Kingdom Season of Culture, which was agreed in 2017 by then-Prime Ministers Shinzo Abe and Theresa May, was designed to bridge the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and Tokyo 2020 with the aim of deepening bilateral exchange in various fields from culture and the arts to technology including medicine, science and industry. The originally designated period was extended until the end of 2021 due to the pandemic.
The Season is centred on grass-roots projects bringing together people from Japan and the United Kingdom, and the role of the Embassy of Japan in the United Kingdom is to support those projects. Reflecting the long-standing friendship between the people of Japan and the United Kingdom, despite the pandemic, more than 1,200 Japan-related events have taken place so far. Through these events, as well as initiatives such as the donation of more than 4,500 Sakura trees by the people of Japan to the people of the United Kingdom, the Japan-United Kingdom Season of Culture has helped make the ties between the two nations even stronger.
Bridges: With the United Kingdom and Japan recovering from the pandemic, what are your hopes for the future of the relationship?
Ambassador Hayashi: Japan and the United Kingdom are global strategic partners who share fundamental values. We have come to enjoy ongoing cooperation as each other’s closest partner in Asia and Europe respectively in both economic and security arenas. The United Kingdom’s announcement in March of its “Indo-Pacific tilt” in its “Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy” has been transforming the partnership into something wider and deeper. Japan and the United Kingdom have been working together toward the realisation of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific”, and Japan welcomes the United Kingdom’s announcement that it will accelerate its engagement in the Indo-Pacific region as a core strategy in the next 10 years. The visit of the Carrier Strike Group led by the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth to Japan in September symbolised the high standard of security and defence cooperation which Japan and the United Kingdom had been developing in recent years.
The United Kingdom’s “Indo-Pacific tilt” is evident in the economic sphere as well, which can been seen from the fact that the United Kingdom formally applied for an accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) in February. Deliberations among the membership nations are under way in the Accession Working Group, which started under Japan’s Chair in September, and where we heard from the United Kingdom about their preparedness to meet the high standard required for the accession. I am delighted that, as Chair of the CPTPP Commission for this year, Japan was able to support the United Kingdom’s application, especially because the United Kingdom’s accession to the CPTPP has great significance from the perspective of strengthening Japan-United Kingdom economic relations as well as for the world economy.
We can also expect Japan and the United Kingdom to build on their cooperation in tackling climate change in the areas of green energy and technologies to achieve decarbonisation. Prime Minister Kishida reaffirmed this in his talks with Prime Minister Johnson when he visited Glasgow on his first official overseas trip to attend COP26 in early November.
Bridges: What message do you have for our readers regarding your time in the United Kingdom and your favourite aspects of British society?
Ambassador Hayashi: The cordial relationship between Japan and the United Kingdom reflects the long history of interaction between the peoples of our two countries. I’ve been struck by the British people’s great interest in Japanese culture. This is clear from the impressive Japanese collections held by some of the leading museums, including the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, which attract many visitors. Meanwhile, the number of visitors to Japan House London has exceeded one million in total since it opened in 2018.
I’ve always been impressed by the British people’s openness towards other cultures, whereby they embrace the positive elements from overseas and assimilate them in a way that invigorates their own culture. This outward-looking aspect of British society is one of the factors that has proved attractive to Japanese companies and led many of them to lay down firm and enduring roots in this country. There are now about 1,000 Japanese companies based in the United Kingdom, which have created around 180,000 jobs.
When I recently boarded a new British aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales in Portsmouth, I was reminded that we, Japan and the United Kingdom, were island and maritime nations located at opposite ends of the Eurasian continent, and that we had prospered through trade. It is very gratifying to see that both countries, who know first-hand how maritime security and freedom of navigation as well as free trade can benefit nations and indeed the world, are deepening their cooperation in this regard. I will do my best to make sure that the solid, longstanding friendship between Japan and the United Kingdom will continue to flourish in all the key areas of bilateral cooperation, from the political and diplomatic, defence and security, and economic and business fields to cultural and people-to-people exchange, as befits two countries that rightly regard each other as global strategic partners.