Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

New Coronavirus: Need for effective Public Diplomacy
OGAWA Tadashi /  Professor, Atomi University

March 6, 2020
Japan has not been effective in disseminating its message abroad in the wake of the new coronavirus outbreak. We need emergency responses comparable to those at the time of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant crisis. This is what I intuitively felt as I traveled through Southeast and South Asia in February.

As is seen in the simultaneous drops in stock prices around the world, the international community is scared stiff by the threat of the new coronavirus. Japan’s established reputation as the world’s safest country is being quickly damaged, and may be further aggravated by excessive Japan phobia and harmful rumors.

To prevent all that from happening, above all else, the Japanese government must exert every effort it can to suppress further infection of the virus within Japan. Further, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should explain to people abroad, thoroughly, logically and in his own words, how Japan is tackling the crisis.

In addition, four things are essential in the government’s public diplomacy.

Firstly, information required by people abroad should be disseminated concisely, swiftly and assiduously. The information posted on the English-language websites of the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labor and other authorities tends to be long-winded explanations, making it difficult to arrive at the crucial data on what scales of infection have been taking pace in which parts of Japan. In comparison, the website of the Philippines Department of Health is much easier to understand, with its display in diagrams and maps of the chronological movements of the numbers of infected persons and their geographical distribution.

Secondly, there should be greater transparency on the dissemination of information. Regrettably, we must admit that the we have failed in achieving the initial objective of preventing the spread of infection within Japan. Even then, it is important to keep up the posture of sharing the information we have, including that which concerns our failure, with the international community. Such a posture will help restore international confidence in Japan in the future.

The point that came under stern criticism by journalists in India and the Philippines was that the authoritarian control of information by the Chinese government had led to the spread of infection. Japan should show by its deeds that, as a democratic country, it does not engage in such control of information.

Thirdly, a public information system with visibility should be set up, with the appointment of someone with acknowledged credibility as the spokesperson or the person in charge of information dissemination abroad.

At the time of the Fukushima First Nuclear Power Plant accident, Noriyuki Shikata, then Director of Global Communications, Prime Minister's Office, took it upon himself to do more than 50 interviews with overseas newpapers, television and other media in the ten days since the second day after the crisis. He also disseminated information day and night through the social media. His earnest and sincere work helped gain the confidence from the overseas media that “Japan was not hiding anything.” This time, it is desirable that someone like Mr. Shikata be appointed as the public face of information dissemination abroad and work to win friends among the overseas media.

Fourthly, we should refrain from criticizing China. Now, Japan and China belong to the same team battling the same crisis. There can be no victory for a team in which teammates engage in vociferous mutual recrimination. The way for Japan to regain international confidence is to act as a mature sensible adult.

For the Japanese people, this a time testing their mettle. In any country, whenever there is a new epidemic, the fear of the unknown disease can easily drive people to discriminatory behaviors towards the infected and medical personnel or the mad rush to buy up things. Let us not act in panic and demonstrate to the world our resolve to respect human rights.

At the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake, the world was impressed by the orderly manner in which the victims acted, and Japan’s favorability in the world went up. We can bend this adversity and turn it into a blessing.

Tadashi Ogawa is Professor at the Department of Humanities in the Faculty of Letters, Atomi University.
This article appeared in the March 5, 2020 edition of the Mainichi Shimbun.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

小川 忠 / 跡見学園女子大学教授

2020年 3月 6日









一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > New Coronavirus: Need for effective Public Diplomacy