The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

The challenges facing our fractured world are numerous, complicated and—in some cases—worsening by the day. These range from the troubled political landscapes of the United States and Brexit-wracked Europe to burgeoning trade wars. Also factors are isolation on the part of some nations and expansionism by others, as well as concerns over cybersecurity, a fragile global economy, population fluctuations, and the state of the planet’s environment.

The G1 Global Conference, held at GLOBIS University in central Tokyo on October 14, brought together several hundred of the world’s foremost thinkers—drawn from government, business, academia, and think tanks—to consider solutions that can reconnect a fractured world.

The annual gathering was first held in November 2011 to consider the ways in which Japan could rebuild and recover in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. Since then, it has become more global in its outlook.

Yoshito Hori, chair of the G1 Summit Institute and the driving force behind the event, said the conference is designed to bring together “wisdom from various sectors around the globe” to discuss remedies to a world in dangerous flux. Hori emphasized that “new connections in politics, business, and society are needed.”

The opening session outlined some of the most pressing problems, with Heizo Takenaka, the moderator and a professor emeritus at Keio University, pointing to populism and isolationism, fractures within nations, and a trend of withdrawal from integration as some of the dramatic negative changes that have affected global society.

Jane Harman, a Democrat and former US Congresswoman who is now director, president and chief executive officer of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, pointed to the negative impact the administration of US President Donald Trump has had on long-term US allies and trusted trading partners.

“We were a reliable trading partner with Asia until Trump—and now we are not,” she said. “There used to be regional alliances, but now there are question marks. The United States is fractured. It is clear that this did not all start with Trump; but it has certainly been amplified under his administration.”

Pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement and the Paris Agreement on climate change within days of taking office indicated the direction that the United States would be taking, Harman said.

Yoichi Funabashi, co-founder and chairman of the Asia Pacific Initiative, said the world has faced numerous challenges in the years since the end of World War II—the Korean War, the oil crises of the mid-1970s, the Gulf War, and the Fukushima nuclear crisis to name but a few. Despite this, he considers the present situation to be the most serious threat to the liberal global order since the end of the world war.

But, he said, this can be considered an opportunity for Japan if Tokyo can emerge as a proactive stabilizer of that established global order and be at the forefront of shaping rules that serve to safeguard the future.

The event then broke up into a dozen sessions examining issues as diverse as how to complete the implementation of Abenomics to ways in which Japan can boost inbound tourism. Creating cities that are both livable and fun, new developments in the fintech space, and opportunities and challenges in the fourth industrial revolution were also explored.

Invitees reconvened for a final plenary session that put a more positive perspective on some of the day’s discussions.

Tom Kelley, a partner with global design and innovation company IDEO, said it would be wrong to blame technological innovations for the problems we are experiencing. Instead we need to utilize technology to reconnect with people.

Sachiko Kuno, co-founder and president of the S&R Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Washinghton, DC, that supports talented entrpreneurs, said that a global vision needs to be forged for issues such as the environment. In that way, each of us can pull in the same direction to reduce the impact that humanity is having on the planet.

Jesper Koll, CEO of Wisdom Tree Japan KK and moderator of the final session, reiterated the belief that the problems the world is facing could be an opportunity for Japan.

“There is creative destruction going on,” he said. “The US elites have not been delivering on their promises, and disgruntlement led to a reaction against those elites. At the same, we have seen the emergence of China.

“If Trump is unwilling or incapable of leading, then it is up to the other powers to take on that role and I see Japan rising to that challenge,” he said. “The US has created a vacuum, but Japan can step forward to fill it.”

Julian Ryall is Japan correspondent for The Daily Telegraph.