Notes from the Field

In 21st Century Asia, Civil Society Blossoms

May 22, 2013

With ongoing tensions in Northeast Asia – North Korea threatening war, pervasive struggles over island territory, and disputes over history and trade – there is a temptation to grow impatient with dialogue and diplomacy. But for more than 60 years, economic growth, peace, and stability in this region have been secured through regional and global cooperation, dialogue, and partnership. Today, too, the peace and well-being of future generations is best assured through continued close regional and global coordination and communication – however challenging this may at times appear.

To those working in the non-government arena, it is also clear that the critical issues facing Asia in the 21st century – from economic development to women’s empowerment; from safeguarding the environment to disaster relief; from effective governance to rule of law – cannot be solved through the power of governments alone. In the 21st century, all elements of a nation’s strength – its citizens, communities, institutions, NGOs – all of civil society must be called upon to assure Asia’s continued development as a peaceful, just, and thriving region of the world.

The role of civil society is crucial, and no one witnessed this truth more than the Japanese people. In the grim hours, days, and months following the March 11, 2011, “triple disaster,” the world watched in awe as the people of Japan joined together to overcome this unimaginable tragedy. New civil society organizations sprang up, and those already in existence grew. These civil society groups worked side-by-side with local communities, educators, businesses, local governments, and national governments to help the victims and to get Japan back on its feet.

The world also witnessed the capacity of civil society groups from many nations to work together, and to coordinate effectively with a range of government and non-government institutions. This is an approach that The Asia Foundation, as a civil society organization with six decades of experience in Asia and 17 offices across the region, has learned well. We know that to be effective we must coordinate with the full range of Asian institutions and actors. And it is why The Asia Foundation recently began to expand its relationships with Japanese institutions and civil society.

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, The Asia Foundation helped make the West more accessible to the Japanese people through travel grants, a translation service, and book donations. Today, we turn to Japanese institutions as partners in Asian development.  Last month, The Asia Foundation signed a cooperative agreement with JICA, the Japan International Cooperation Agency. Through this partnership, our two organizations will work together in support of inclusive, dynamic, and sustainable development and regional stability in Asia. And last summer, leading Japanese civil society organizations and The Asia Foundation joined together to bring members of Afghan civil society to Japan, so that their voices would be heard at the Tokyo Ministerial on Afghanistan by governments committing to the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

We no longer live in a world where governments alone can solve the great challenges of the world. Civil society organizations, the business community, and governments must work hand-in-hand, across national boundaries. The Asia Foundation has had a relationship with Japan for nearly 60 years. We know that with the rise of Japanese civil society, our new strategic partnership will be even more effective as we work – together – to improve lives and expand opportunities across a dynamic and developing Asia.

Michael Armacost is the Chairman of The Asia Foundation, and was U.S. Ambassador to Japan and to the Philippines, and under secretary of state for political affairs. David Arnold is the president of The Asia Foundation.?The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and not those of The Asia Foundation.

One comment on this post:

  1. Yang-pyo Hong:

    I really wish to establish the peaceful and cooperative East-Asian Community like EU. It might be possible however not probable. Because two giants of China and Japan cannot afford to change to higher level of cultural and friendly models as Franco-German examles. Chiina is still one-party authritarian communist system, and Japan is still in pseudo authritarian model of Sindo(a sort of cult of Japanese emporors and Samurai(a sort of middle ages of warriorship) which has been sternley ordered to commit “harakiri’(self suicide of stab in abdomen).
    I heartly want those two giants of 1.6 billions of economic giants to be grown up democratic models observing of universal human rights and civil societies in which people’s free opinions are already grown to lead the truth of peace and just of the world. The Two’s are ralatively very weak in cultures, morals and democracy in the world.
    However, I am hopeful and believe in probability that both are changing greatly now. Chian is in the midst of democrtization in the free press, and free press of criticizing of North Korea. Japan has been growing of civil societies, self-reflexion of her history of invasion, though very weak.
    I want the Two to be in the position of truth or near truth, never to be chauvinistic. Remember please essenses of democracy: All men are created equal and free given from heaven.

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