Speech by Roman Herzog, Partners in Responsibility: Germany and Japan facing the Challenges of the Twenty-First Century

Speech by Roman Herzog, Partners in Responsibility: Germany and Japan facing the Challenges of the Twenty-First Century

Mon, Apr 21, 1997
Speech by Roman Herzog, Partners in Responsibility: Germany and Japan facing the Challenges of the Twenty-First Century

Partners in Responsibility: Germany and Japan facing the Challenges of the Twenty-First Century

Speech by Roman Herzog,
President of the Federal Republic of Germany,
on being awarded an honorary degree by Waseda University,
Tokyo, 7 April 1997

Translation of advance text
(listed by permission of The German Embassy, April 10, 1997) revised April 21, 1997

Mr Principal,
Ladies and gentleman.

To be awarded an honorary degree by Waseda University is for me a two-fold privilege and pleasure. Firstly, as a German lawyer I regard it as a great professional honour to receive a Japanese Doctor of Law degree. For over a century now close links have grown up between the German and the Japanese legal systems, stronger links indeed in many respects than between German law and, for example, Anglo-Saxon or French law. With my Japanese colleagues I therefore feel I am on familiar ground.

Secondly, as the President of Germany I am delighted your University is conferring this distinction on me because your tradition here at Waseda is very relevant, I believe, to many of the issues both Japan and Germany are facing today. Waseda was at once a product and an Instrument of Japan’s renewal in the Meiji Era. It also served as a mediator between Japan and Germany, a role it still fulfils to this day. A clear indication of this is the opening by Professor Nishihara – who might be called the Japanese academic world’s ambassador to Europe – three years ago in Bonn of Waseda University’s European Centre. So the name of Waseda stands for renewal and exchange, and that sums up perfectly the theme of my remarks today, namely, how to address the challenges of the Twenty-First century.

These challenges mean for Japan and Germany alike a greater burden of responsibility. And this responsibility entails both risks and opportunities. In our shrinking and also increasingly complex world there is inevitably an ever higher price to be paid for taking the wrong decisions and likewise greater gain to be had from taking the right ones. So there is an obvious and growing need to share experience and work in partnership together.

It is my strong belief that Japanese and Germans have excellent qualifications to be just such partners in responsibility. The two presentations we have heard on the changing self-perceptions of Japan and Germany over the centuries have reinforced this impression on my part. I would like to pay tribute to Professor Ohashi and Professor Reiner for the valuable insights they have given us.

The reasons I advocate that Germans and Japanese be partners in responsibility are three-fold:

  • the striking similarity of our present problems
  • our rich store of common values and experience
  • our clear interest in a common vision for the future.

Let me begin with the problems facing us both at the present time. It would be hard to find any two countries geographically so far apart as Japan and Germany yet so closely related in terms of their problems in the field of the economy, society, culture or international relations. Firstly, our countries – as we well know – have to cope with the impact of this new challenge of globalization. From year to year nation-states and national economies appear ever more impotent in the face of the transitional might of the global financial and capital markets. From year to year the advent of new technologies steps up the pressure on our businesses, unions and government to change and adapt to the new environment beyond our borders. From year to year the information society and the new multimedia opportunities it opens up challenge our traditional cultures to react and interact in new ways and new directions.


Of course, globalization is not something that affects only Japan and Germany but other countries as well. But compared to some of our European and Asian neighbours the Germans and Japanese have in a sense a special responsibility to come to terms with this phenomenon. For over the past decades Germany and Japan have always seen their role as advocates and pioneers of free markets, technological innovation and the dynamic development of the information society. And we have prospered mightily as a result. So now in the face of these new and initially painful changes we see around us, a new international division of labour, relocation of industries abroad, exchange rate fluctuations not always beneficial for all sectors of the economy or all parts of society, the sobering fact of technological breakthroughs happening elsewhere and, finally, changing cultural values at home, it would be quite wrong to give way to fear and panic.

The debate in Germany shows that not everyone has yet understood this. A new consensus is still not in sight. And from all I have been hearing now, the situation is much the same in Japan. Why that should be so is not hard to grasp, since both countries are in a way prisoners of their own success. Their competitive advantage over the past decades eventually led to currency appreciation, which today puts their traditional export industries at a price disadvantage. The steadily rising prosperity to which we had once been accustomed can no longer be taken for granted. If we had thought the sky was the limit, then we were wrong.

In both countries our present problems are compounded by the demographic situation. In Germany – like in Japan – society is age-ing. While there may be many differences between our pension systems, one thing they have in common is the problem that shortly there will be too few young people taking care of too many elderly people – unless, that is, we make great efforts now to find viable solutions for the future.

Not only at home but also abroad great challenges lie ahead for both our countries. The Cold War is of course over, the bipolar balance of terror belongs to history. But the so-called “new security risks”, ranging from the population explosion, environmental pollution, migration driven by poverty to nuclear smuggling, drug trafficking and fundamentalism movements of all kinds – these are no less dangerous. Military might is to no avail in countering many of these threats. What is needed is “soft power”, meaning the power of argument, successful problem-solving, models of economic and social stability. That a great deal is expected here of Japan and Germany should come as no surprise. After all, in other parts of the world our two countries, irrespective of their present difficulties, are still seen as models of economic and social stability. And given their history, their economic strength and their cultural resources, they have a moral duty to take on greater responsibility and assume a heavier burden.

Germany and Japan, two of the world’s major democracies, cannot simply leave it to their G 7 and Alliance partners alone to do the work of safeguarding world peace. Nor, for that matter, can we afford to be mere bystanders when, after exhausting all other instruments of preventive security policy, there is nothing left but the military option. This is something which, after the bitter lessons of the Second World War, the Germans and the Japanese have not found it easy to accept. That they have now decided to take part in different kinds of peace-keeping activities testifies, I believe, to the maturity of their democracies.

There is one problem in the foreign policy domain which is perhaps a particular challenge to Germany and Japan, a conceptual and cultural challenge. I am thinking here of the so-called clash of civilizations which, following the Cold War, some people predict as the next great conflict looming on the horizon. This scenario is to my mind highly questionable both intellectually and morally. But it is nonetheless highly dangerous. For this idea, once implanted in the minds of the elites both in the West and in Asia might become a self prophecy, hence a new security risk. I am convinced, however, that Japan and Germany are well equipped historically and intellectually to ensure that this scenario never becomes a reality.

This brings me to another argument in favour of Germans and Japanese being partners in responsibility, namely, our wealth of shared values and historical experience. After all, it is not the first time that the German and the Japanese people find themselves facing tremendous challenges. And reflecting on our problems as we approach the twenty-first century, we would do well to recall the sources of moral and intellectual strength which in the past have helped us find a sense of direction in times of uncertainty, solve problems, correct mistakes and evoke visions for the future.

When I speak of shared values and experience, I am not just referring to the 400 years of reciprocal cultural fascination dating back to the arrival in Japan of the Jesuit Francis Xavier in 1549. That story has been recounted often enough, so I’m not going to repeat it here. However, if we look back for a moment at the unforgettable part played therein by travelling scholars like Engelbert Hamster, poets like Goethe, physicians like Philipp-Franz van Siebold, statesmen and reformers like Ito Hirobumi and lawyers like Heinrich Rossler; heroes of the heart like Mori Ogai, and prisoners of war like the music-makers of Bando; or again physicists like Einstein and philanthropic industrialists like Hajime Hoshi: all this seems to point to a very special affinity between Japan and Germany. And the very depth of this affinity should preserve us, I believe, from making hasty judgments postulating a clash of civilizations steaming from some innate contradiction between Asian and Western values.

Considering how important this point is for both our countries, allow me to go one step further. Even more striking than our fascination for each other’s cultures over the past 400 years are the common foundations of our civilizations reaching back into the distant past, when we never even knew of each other’s existence, and later on, when contacts were non-existent. We all too easily forget for instance that Buddha, Confucius and Socrates were virtual contemporaries, all bent on the same quest for humanity, reason, wisdom, how to distinguish good from evil. My response to the clash-of-civilizations school of thought is to insist on the “Golden Rule”, which is formulated in almost identical terms both in the writings of Confucius and in the Bible, and indeed in some form or other in all great civilizations: “Do not do unto others what you would not they do unto you”. Of course I know there are many different relations, philosophies and traditions in this pluralistic world of ours and it is only natural and right that in times of change and upheaval people feel the urge to go back to their own ethical roots. But that surely need not mean that, grappling as we are with the same problems, we must at the present juncture go divergent ways, with possibly hazardous implications!

If this were so, then how could Japan, I wonder, become a model of a consensus society? For does not Japan’s culture rest on the three pillars of shintoism, buddhism and confucianism, which together form a happy and harmonious whole? One of the reasons I have been looking forward to this visit with such keen interest is, I will readily admit, to experience at first hand this remarkable Japanese cultural harmony. Peaceful and creative dialogue between different religions and philosophies is, I believe, one of the most challenging tasks facing us today, and as far as I am concerned, those prophets often looming clash of civilizations should take the trouble to study the Japanese example of pragmatic tolerance.

Apart from the common ethical foundations of Western and Asian civilization, I am struck also by certain similarities of a historical nature. We can trace comparable patterns of transition from the old to the new, progress and setbacks, paralysis and renewal in the history of both Japan and Germany. Take the adoption and simultaneous adaptation of Roman tradition in Germany and Chinese traditions in Japan in the early Middle Ages. Take medieval feudalism, which was unique to Europe and Japan and gave way to a vibrant mercantile society featuring almost modern commodity and financial markets both in Osaka and the Free Imperial Cities of the Holy Roman Empire. Take, finally, the mathematician Kowa Seki who, in the Japan of self-imposed isolation of the Tokugawa Period, discovered some of the same theorems of calculus as his contemporaries Leibniz and Newton.

From the perspective of the nineteenth century, the Germany of the Humboldt reforms and the Japan of the Meiji Restoration seem to have been destined for partnership. The ups and downs of the remarkably similar history of Germany and Japan in the 20th century need no elaboration. We are all familiar with them. The wars and the failure of democracy in the first half of this century hold a message we should never forget. But when we focus on the miracle of reconstruction, the success of our democracies in the second half, the message is one of encouragement and hope.

This brief expedition through time shows that the links between the classical sources and history of our cultures to the present day and beyond are easily found. And that brings me to my third argument in favour of Germans and Japanese being partners in responsibility: our obvious interest in evolving common perspectives for the future.

It seems to me we are already hard at work developing such new perspectives, even if the climate of the ongoing public debate is for the moment one of gloom and self-doubt. We are at any rate already discussing ways of tackling the problems besetting the economy, society, culture and foreign relations that I outlined earlier. And just as the analysis of the problems is similar, so too is there a lot of common ground in our approaches to a solution.

In both countries we are increasingly realizing that globalization is here to stay and there is no alternative but to make the best of it. We are beginning to understand that this cannot be done without deregulating the economy and mobilizing all groups and creative forces in our society. This does not mean pinning our hopes on some new form off social darwinism, or that we must submit to the law of the survival of the fittest. The search for consensus which has been such a consistent theme of the past fifty years in both Germany and Japan is not something we should give up lightly. The “Golden Rule” I cited earlier is still the benchmark of a humane society and a guide to decision-making in both the private and the public domain.

This must also be our focus in dealing with the demographic problem. If we do nothing and let the shrinking number of young people bear the burden of caring for the growing number of elderly people, their prospects for the future will be blighted. Yet we owe it to the older generation, who built up a country devastated by war, not to abandon them in the sunset of their lives. This is a classic case for the “Golden Rule”. Static models offer no solution. Redistribution or saving alone cannot be the answer. Nor can it be found in conventional patterns of growth based on fiscal expansion. Our difficult budgetary situation leaves no scope for such policies.

What we need is a new type of growth, knowledge-based growth, in fact. As we approach the Twenty-First century, our countries are on the threshold of a new era, much as was Germany at the time of the Humboldt reforms or Japan at the time of the Meiji Restoration. Once more we have to make a massive investment in research and education. The ecological and fiscal limits to conventional growth are a straightjacket from which we can only escape by developing what is called our human capital. Knowledge knows no limits. The law of diminishing returns does not apply to investment in brains.

All of this can happen if we want it to happen. Japan’s vision of a microelectronics revolution which it saw through, despite much resistance, to a triumphant success within a decade still fills us Germans with admiration. This kind of pragmatic strategy is also what we need to solve our current problems. The crux of the matter is to combine forward-looking action with an awareness of the fallibility of human understanding and a readiness at any time to correct decisions which turn out to be wrong. The new dynamism evident in the American economy, science and technology is proof that today this can still be done. We should remember that at the end of the Eighties the United States, too, was prey to that mood of despondency which is so pervasive in Japan and Germany today. Let that spur us to shake off our current depression and turn our thoughts to shaping the future of our economy, society and culture.

Globalization and information technology are in fact giving us a new type of sovereignty which we are still just learning how to use. We need to ask whether we are making sufficient use or indeed the right use of it. Above all we need to recognize we cannot make full and wise use of technical progress unless on the intellectual, mental and cultural plane we are always one stride ahead.

This also means, of course, that we must invest in foreign policy know-how as well if Germany and Japan are to live up to their growing international responsibilities. For in the final analysis the skills needed for the exercise of “soft power” are derived from the richness of our scientific potential and cultural traditions. One key to developing such power in the long term lies in a far-sighted education policy geared to the needs of the twenty-first century.

But another key, we would do well to remember, lies in our own history, our wealth of experience from ancient times right up to this century. The “Golden Rule” I would cite one last time is for foreign policy as well more relevant than ever before. I can conceive of no more powerful rebuttal of the clash-of-civilization thesis. I was delighted to learn, as a matter of fact, that the Chinese foreign minister quoted the Confucian version of the Golden Rule at a conference in Beijing in May 1995. To live by this Rule means we must be good neighbours to each other both in Asia and in Europe, What’s more, Asia and Europe must be good neighbours to each other. For Germany and Japan this opens up a whole range of opportunities for responsibility in partnership. They can make it their highest priority to demonstrate in political practice what it means to be a good neighbour and inspire others to follow their example.

In the history of relations between our two countries there have been periods of intensive German learning from Japan and intensive Japanese learning from Germany. Now as we look to the future we have a chance to at the same time learn from each other, which also means learning from our mistakes. If we succeed we will be helping to create a global environment favourable to learning, in short, a learning world. As to the goal of this learning, there can be no doubt. At the dawn of this new century it is nothing less than to construct a more humane world.

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