It will be important for JPFP and APDA, while appreciating the spirit with which their respective organizations were founded, to propose solutions on how we respond to such new global trends and issues and to provide the basis for action.Former Prime Minister of Japan
Chair of APDA, Honorary Chair of JPFP Hon. Yasuo Fukuda
Hon. Yasuo Fukuda, former Prime Minister of Japan, has served as the fifth Chair of JPFP (2007-2012), Chair of APDA (2007 to present), and the fourth Chair of the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development (AFPPD) (2005-2012), guiding parliamentarian activities on population and development in Japan and Asia as well as around the world.
We interviewed Hon. Fukuda on the role Japan has played in the field of population and development and on principles underlying the creation of the parliamentarian activities.
―Could you please tell us why parliamentarian activities in the field of population began in Japan?
Hon. Fukuda A country’s prosperity has much to do with its population and economic strength. After the World War II, Japan made a steady progress in development because its economic growth outpaced its population increase. In other Asian countries during the 20th century, however, economic growth could not keep pace with the rapid population increase, which resulted in poverty to increase.
In 1973, a delegation of parliamentarians from Japan, headed by the former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, visited Asian countries. What they saw was poverty and a rapid increase in population. To ameliorate such circumstances, the delegation felt that a more balanced development was needed, where social development—including education, health and sanitation, and improvement in the status of women—would drive economic growth. They quickly started activities for assistance.
These parliamentarians from Japan established the Japan Parliamentarians Federation for Population (JPFP) in 1974, as the world’s first supra-partisan parliamentary caucus on the issues of population and development. This was because there was understanding that to solve these issues, measures needed to be implemented through international cooperation. Japan’s parliamentarians, moreover, worked towards the establishment of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA, formerly the United Nations Fund for Population Activities), with Dr. Rafael M. Salas (the former executive secretary to the president of the Philippines), who had similar thoughts about the issues of population and who was a senior officer at the United Nations at that time.
―What were the reasons for thinking about “population” and “development” together?
Hon. Fukuda At the time, Japan’s politicians thought that development should aspire towards building a society of peace and prosperity and that the issues of population should be addressed from such a perspective of economic and social development.
To put this into context, this line of thinking was influenced by the creation by Takeo Fukuda and others, in 1983, of the InterAction Council (a.k.a. OB Summit), which brought together former prime ministers and presidents. The objectives of the OB Summit were disarmament, world peace, and stable economic development, and in parallel, identified population and development as one of its top priority issues.
It was from this major global trend that the Asian Population and Development Association (APDA) was established in 1982 and began serving as JPFP’s secretariat. JPFP and APDA have since been working together to address issues related to the world’s population and development.
―What achievements were there specifically?
Hon. Fukuda In the activities led by Japan’s parliamentarians, we have consistently shown that population and development are inseparable. At the International Conference of Parliamentarians on Population and Development, convened in Mexico City in 1984 through the initiative of JPFP and APDA, we addressed the issues of population and development jointly.
In 1994, the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) was organized by the United Nations in Cairo. Immediately prior to this conference, the International Conference of Parliamentarians on Population and Development was convened with Japan’s leadership. The declaration from the parliamentarian conference, drafted by JPFP and APDA, was reflected in the ICPD’s Programme of Action. This was an epoch-making achievement.
In this manner, JPFP and APDA have consistently propounded groundbreaking policies and led international public opinion and activities in this field.
―The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are today an international guiding principle. Japan apparently also played a role in this.
Hon. Fukuda The concept of “sustainable development” became internationally known through the United Nations’ World Commission on Environment and Development, which was established in 1984. The concept was included in the report “Our Common Future” that the commission compiled in 1987. To begin with, this commission was established because Takeo Fukuda and other politicians from Japan persuaded the United Nations through the Japanese government, and it was established with contributions from Japan. The report was also adopted in Tokyo.
―You could say that the former Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda is the father of “sustainable development”.
Hon. Fukuda This World Commission on Environment and Development is also known as the Brundtland Commission, because it was chaired by the former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland. She was also a member of the OB Summit, which had had long discussions on “population and development”. This was also the result of the initiative exercised by Takeo Fukuda.
The SDGs include the concept of “human security” of “realizing a world in which no one is left behind”. It was Japan that developed this concept further after it emerged at the end of the Cold War. The then Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi propounded this concept in 1998, and Ms. Sadako Ogata (the former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and Hon. Keizo Takemi (Member of the Board of Directors, APDA) followed it up. The Commission on Human Security was established in 2001, and a resolution on human rights was adopted at the United Nations General Assembly in 2012.
“Human security” is at the core of SDGs. This kind of epoch-making contribution by Japan is serving as an important guidepost in international undertakings. I take pride in the fact that JPFP and APDA have played an extremely important role in all of this.
―As the nature of population issues changes, what role are parliamentarians expected to play through their activities?
Hon. Fukuda We may be spared the “population explosion” that had been a concern in the past. Even now, some countries continue to have their populations increase, whilst other countries like Japan are facing population decrease and ageing. Circumstances vary. Moreover, even if a country as a whole becomes prosperous, there is now substantial inequality within a country. We must think about these issues as well. The need to respond to these circumstances has put a heavier burden of responsibility on parliamentarians.
With the encouragement of JPFP and APDA, parliamentary fora on population and development have been established in all regions of the world, and Japan has played a central role in creating a network across borders. Through this network, achievements from development assistance and other programs as well as countries’ experiences, best practices, and lessons learned were effectively shared, and international cooperation was promoted. This unique international network was a product of the collaboration between JPFP and APDA. UNFPA has also extended cooperation in strengthening this network.
―What can other countries learn from Japan’s experience?
Hon. Fukuda On reflection, Japan’s failings are excessive concentration of people in Tokyo, low fertility, and population decrease. Japan, in addition, did not respond properly to the issue of women’s participation in society. Even though gender equality has substantially advanced in education and choice of work, birthing remains uniquely a woman’s role. Politicians must first take the initiative in promoting efforts to create an environment conducive to women having children and to build a society where child rearing support is readily available.
Some 40 years have passed since the establishment of the OB Summit that I mentioned earlier. Today, the “corona shock” from the spread of COVID-19 infection is having a growing impact on the economy. In terms of military affairs, nuclear disarmament has stalled, and new security threats have emerged, such as autonomous weapons and cyberattacks, that may replace nuclear weapons.
Furthermore, the United Nations has warned that global warming is accelerating at a faster rate than previously anticipated. There is concern that if radical measures are not taken now, the Arctic ice and permafrost would melt, further accelerating global warming, adversely impacting the natural ecosystem, resources, and food, and resulting in a perilous state where natural disasters occur at frequent intervals. We must act now.
I think it will be important for JPFP and APDA, while appreciating the spirit with which their respective organizations were founded, to propose solutions on how we respond to such new global trends and issues and to provide the basis for action.
― Thank you very much for speaking with us today.
Interviewed in January 2021
※The titles shown are those held at the time of interview.