As policy analysts sound the alarm on tribalism and discussions between world leaders break down on public global stages such as the recent G7 summit in France, it’s easy to lose hope in multilateral institutions and feel as though it’s everyone for themselves. Here in Japan, the Abe administration’s increasingly nationalistic policies, coupled with Japan’s deteriorating relationships with other countries, suggest a possible inward turn and retreat from international cooperation.
Despite this background, however, skimming recent headlines quickly reveals growing national concern over Japan’s need to catch up to its peers in various areas. Journalists frequently cite OECD rankings to illustrate how Japan is lagging behind other countries in certain key measurements. Just a few months ago, Nikkei Shimbun, Japan’s largest financial newspaper, reported on the OECD’s Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) results. At 17.9 percent, the percentage of Japanese middle school teachers who said that they use information and communication technology (ICT) in class was the fourth lowest out of the 36 OECD countries. On average, 51.3 percent of middle school teachers in OECD countries regularly utilized ICT in classrooms.
Japanese government entities and private companies alike continue to invest time, budget and staff to support international initiatives and align with international standards. In fact, for these Japanese bureaucrats and business leaders, multilateral institutions help set universal values and aspirational ideals, regardless of the political climate. For example, private organizations have voiced their support for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), pledging to fight climate change and strive to adopt affordable and clean energy.
These values and standards that attract Japanese bureaucrats and business leaders can serve as beacons for international businesses trying to break into the Japan market.The UN SDGs, OECD’s areas of work, and other global initiatives offer stable messaging pillars with which to align. This is especially true now, as Japan recently hosted the G20 Summit in June and is now gearing up for the 2020 Olympics—all eyes are on Japan and Abe is keen to make a good impression internationally.
In Japan, perhaps now more than ever, multilateral institutions and their initiatives command the respect of public and private sectors. Despite a number of geopolitical issues plaguing the country, governments and privately-owned businesses still look to international standards to guide their practices. By incorporating SDGs into corporate initiatives or displaying that their services and CSR activities contribute to OECD areas of work, foreign companies can also show stakeholders the value that they add to Japanese society.