Growth brings prosperity, and prosperity brings peace. These are the sorts of words you will hear often as the world’s leaders gather in New York for the annual U.N. General Assembly meeting this month. And they are true. But as the United Nations marks its 70th anniversary this year, it is worth taking a step back and considering how these words apply to the real world, and real people’s lives.
When CNN asked me to share my personal perspective about what development and prosperity means in the real world, and how my country sees this issue more generally, I recalled my visit to Cote d’Ivoire last year, where Japan has been helping to improve basic literacy education for women, as well as vocational training facilities for in-demand skills like needlework. I will never forget the smiles of the young women I saw there, their faces filled with hope for the future.
Over the last 60 years, Japan has been a partner for developing countries, extending much-needed assistance to develop human resources and infrastructure while also respecting and understanding their specific needs.
But there is still much to do, as millions of people around the world remain in poverty, or else have lost their homes and are seeking refuge.
The recent influx of large number of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa into surrounding countries and Europe, for example, is a serious humanitarian crisis that underscores the need for greater international cooperation. Japan stands firm with host communities of refugees and we will do our best to tackle this challenge.
However, we recognize that individual countries acting alone are not enough to maintain global peace and stability. That is why we will play a more significant role in international peace and stability through “Proactive Contribution to Peace,” based on the principle of international cooperation. The legislation passed in our country’s parliament on September 19 allows Japan to expand the scope of participation by the country’s Self-Defense Forces in international peace cooperation activities.
Another venue for cooperation is the United Nations, and that is why I will be attending meetings in New York. But if we are to maximize the potential for promoting global peace and stability, we should advance reforms in the United Nations, including the Security Council, which plays a central role, to enable it to be more prominent in efforts at solving challenges faced by countries and people across the globe. I believe such reforms, pursued in a manner fitting for the 21st century, will finally bring peace, prosperity and security.
But back to Japan. We have tried to approach development based on three points — placing a high priority on each and every human being (human security), a belief in developing countries’ ability to help themselves (support for self-help), and encouragement of self-reliant development (sustainable growth).
What do these things mean in practice?
Human security recognizes the importance of individuals, and that the key to ensuring growth in developing countries is to foster individual talent and abilities, build self-reliance and put people in a position to make a broader contribution to society. Growth must be inclusive, and no-one must be left behind. That is why Japan specifically targets those in the most vulnerable of positions for assistance, including women. Cooperation in health and medical service is another strength Japan can offer for enhancing human security.
In Cambodia, for example, Japan has provided technical training for maternity care, contributing to a dramatic reduction in infant mortality. We are also helping water purification projects in Bangladesh and Kenya, supporting female-led businesses in fishing villages in Sri Lanka, and have dispatched medical experts, equipment and financial support to various countries in West Africa to control the recent Ebola outbreak. I’m proud to say that many Japanese women have been contributing to these efforts, encouraging local people to build a better society in their respective countries.
Support for self-help. Tied to the issue of human security is the need to assist developing nations’ citizens to help themselves by acquiring new skills and abilities, giving them what they need to aspire to, and secure, greater growth and economic independence. One way is through grants for education and training in technical skills for improved capacity for developing human resources. As a result, domestic economy and indigenous industries have been developed, fostering domestic-led efforts that help provide a robust foundation for national development and growth.
I continue to advocate this approach, and for almost 20 years, I have been personally supporting a program to build schools in some of the least developed countries in Asia, such as Myanmar and Cambodia. In Thailand, meanwhile, in order to train those young people who will be responsible for Thai business and industry in the future, I have helped establish an institute that has combined technical education with training opportunities at private companies.
Similarly, in Africa, I launched the “ABE (African Business Education) Initiative for Youth” in 2013, which provides chances to obtain master’s degree and do internship at Japanese companies. And in 14 countries, we introduced math and science education programs to foster greater industrial development.
Sustainable growth. Ultimately, though, eliminating global poverty means sustainable development, and that means providing developing countries with much-needed assistance for infrastructure and human-resource capacity building to foster “Quality Growth.” With that in mind, Japan has launched the “Partnership for Quality Infrastructure” targeting Asian countries. Infrastructure investment has long-term implications and benefits for users, so their cost assessment should better factor in such elements as overall life cycle costs.
As a country with experience of coping with earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural disasters, Japan believes in emphasizing the mainstreaming of disaster risk reduction. We therefore prioritize investment in disaster prevention and post-disaster improvements under a policy of “Build Back Better (BBB).” Japan now boosts education and exchange programs and other efforts aimed at strengthening disaster preparedness in vulnerable regions such as the Pacific Islands and the Caribbean.
All of these approaches are reflected in Japan’s Development Cooperation Charter, launched in February 2015. Based on this Charter, Japan is committed to contributing proactively to the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”
The United Nations was founded 70 years ago, at the end of World War II. Since that time, Japan has steadfastly walked the path of peace and rebuilt a nation. And, since the mid-1950s onward, we have actively worked to share our experience of development with other nations, especially in Asia.
During this time, the continent has achieved remarkable development and, in much of the region, a high level of democratization. Many of these lessons can be applied to other parts of the world including Africa and the Middle East.
Indeed, it is with that in mind, and together with the United Nations and other co-sponsors, that I will chair the 6th Tokyo International Conference for African Development (TICAD) in Kenya, the first time the meeting will be hosted in Africa. We will use this opportunity, and the presidency of the G7 next year, to work closely with leaders around the world.
The lesson of recent decades is that each country’s security is threatened in a world where instability and poverty still exists somewhere else. We hope that by sharing our experience, we can help tackle these challenges and usher in a new chapter in development cooperation.
Shinzo Abe is the prime minister of Japan. The views expressed are his own.