Sir David Warren, Chairman of The Japan Society, Chair of the Council of the University of Kent

Business Focus: Please provide the readers of The Guardian with your personal introductory remarks about Japan.

Sir David Warren: I was British Ambassador in Japan from 2008 to 2012, having served twice before in the British Embassy in Tokyo; first, in the 1970s after my Japanese language training, and then in the 1990s, as the head of Commercial Promotion. I was very fortunate in my diplomatic career in serving three times in a country whose relations with Britain were close and friendly, but whose social, political and business cultures were unique and complex. As Ambassador, I was privileged in having a job that involved understanding all aspects of the country—industry, finance, science, innovation, art, sport, social change—and to be responsible for finding ways of building closer bridges between our two nations. I was Ambassador in March 2011 when the Force 9.0 earthquake off the Tohoku region occurred, leading to the horrific tsunami, with massive loss of life, and the Fukushima nuclear disaster. No one who lived through that period could feel anything other than admiration for the courage and resilience of the Japanese people.

Business Focus : What have been your personal priorities as Chairman of The Japan Society during your tenure?

Sir David Warren: The Japan Society is a cultural and educational charity, strongly supported not only by British and Japanese individuals, but also by many Japanese companies who are investing in the UK (and some British companies trading with Japan). We have a cultural programme of lectures and meetings, including book discussions and language study groups, and an ambitious educational programme to bring together British and Japanese schools that can foster a better knowledge of each other’s culture and society. In Britain, we call this “Japan in Your Classroom”. We run teacher-training days, disburse small grants, and make teaching resources available for those interested. I hope Guardian readers will look at the Society’s forthcoming programme of events on the website:

Business Focus: What are the key aspects of the 'Abenomics-Three Arrows’ strategy (1), and Japan’s economic outlook in your opinion?

Sir David Warren: There has been some scepticism about how effective Abenomics has been since the Prime Minister launched “the three arrows” in 2013, and some analysts will argue that a country with a shrinking and ageing population should not expect to grow at the levels to which the government aspires. It’s important to remember just how large the Japanese economy remains, even after 25 years of slow growth and intermittent recession. Japan is still a powerful and influential manufacturing country as well as the world’s premier creditor nation. Ten per cent of Fortune 500 companies are Japanese, and it is remains a powerhouse for research and development. That said, Japan does need to tackle some of the over-regulation and vested interests in certain sectors that have held it back from having to compete on a completely level playing field with its major industrial partners. The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, now awaiting ratification in a US election year, should be a powerful engine of the sort of change that could help kick-start the Japanese economy into faster growth. There is a strong case for getting more women into the workforce, which means better childcare facilities nationwide, and allowing more immigrants into Japan. It is a controversial topic these days, but all the evidence shows that immigrants contribute to the prosperity of a country. It cannot be a coincidence that the developed country with the lowest level of immigration—Japan— is also the one that has had the flattest economy in recent years.

Business Focus: Which sectors within the Japanese economy are best positioned to fully capitalize on the momentum and bilateral relationship between Japan and the UK? What are the top three reasons that make the UK a preferred investment destination hub?

Sir David Warren: Over the past 40 years, we have welcomed more than 1,400 Japanese companies into the UK, in every major industrial and service sector. They employ over 140,000 people directly, and since one should usually multiply that figure by four or five to capture the full range of people in the various supply chains, they will also probably be supporting between 600,000 and 700,000 people elsewhere in the economy. I very much hope that we can see continued growth in Japanese investment, particularly in the high-tech and innovative sectors, as well as expansion in the existing sectors, such as automobiles (where over half the cars built in Britain are from Japanese firms), pharmaceuticals, and the financial services sector. However, this will depend on the forthcoming referendum on Britain in the EU on 23 June. Japanese firms have invested in the UK because successive British Governments, and local development authorities, have been consistently supportive of the Japanese presence. However, our being part of the single market has been a crucial element in this investment. If that is now going to be called into question – or if Brexit leads, as it certainly will, to serious economic instability and shrinking economic growth – Britain’s economic attractiveness as a hub for Japanese investment will reduce. This would be a tragedy. Japanese investment has been one of the great economic success stories in the UK in the last few decades. We can’t allow this to be thrown away.

Business Focus : It has been an enlightening interview. Thank you. What would be your final message to Guardian readers?

Sir David Warren: I’ve been a reader of the Guardian for nearly 50 years…I started as a schoolboy! I’m delighted to be able to say a little about the work that the Japan Society, and all our corporate donors, are doing to help ensure the next generation of political and commercial links between Britain and Japan is as strong as the last.

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    Abenomics (アベノミクス Abenomikusu) refers to the economic policies advocated by Shinzō Abe since the December 2012 general election, which elected Abe to his second term as Prime Minister of Japan. Abenomics is based upon "three arrows" of: fiscal stimulus, monetary easing and structural reforms.