This is a background paper that was prepared for an event held at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Science and Technology Diplomacy and the U.S.-Japan Alliance.

Atsushi Sunami
Atsushi Sunami, PhD, is vice president and professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo, Japan.

In September 2015, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida appointed Teruo Kishi as Japan’s first science and technology (S&T) adviser to the minister for foreign affairs. Kishi’s appointment came as a response to recommendations that had been submitted to the foreign minister in May by the Advisory Panel on Science and Technology Diplomacy. This advisory panel was established in recognition of the importance of the scientific community in dealing with current diplomatic challenges, and its objective was to evaluate the status of S&T diplomacy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as the Japanese government as a whole, toward providing solutions to these issues. In order to help the foreign minister more effectively engage in S&T diplomacy, the panel proposed the establishment of an S&T adviser to the foreign minister.

Unlike in the United States and the United Kingdom, in Japan there are multiple actors in the government who can each carry out their own S&T diplomacy policy. For example, the main mission of the Council for Science, Technology and Innovation in the Cabinet Office is to promote science as an engine of economic growth as well as a means to solve social problems such as climate change and Japan’s aging population. Thus, the council tends to emphasize the role of diplomacy for the advancement of science in order to solve these social problems. This approach is called diplomacy for science. Conversely, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs emphasizes the importance of utilizing science in effectively implementing foreign policy. One might identify this as science for diplomacy.

In addition to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Environment, and Ministry of Telecommunications—to name few—are also important players utilizing science for their policy missions. In today’s globalized world, most of their missions are also global, ranging from fighting climate change and infectious diseases to bolstering cybersecurity.

To coordinate and command the science and technology policies of the various ministries, the role of the prime minister and his office is crucial. Unfortunately, Japan has not yet appointed a science adviser to help the prime minister with these tasks. Without a coordinating function in the prime minister’s office, the boundary between science for diplomacy and diplomacy for science is unclear in the mechanisms of Japan’s government that bridge science and politics.

The Emergence of Science and Technology Diplomacy in Japan

In 2008, science and technology diplomacy emerged as one of the government’s policy objectives with the Council for Science and Technology Policy (CSTP) paper “Toward the Reinforcement of Science and Technology Diplomacy,” which was the result of CSTP working group discussions in 2007. It defines science and technology diplomacy as any steps taken “to link S&T with foreign policy so as to achieve their mutual development” and “to utilize diplomacy for the further development of S&T and promote efforts to utilize S&T for diplomatic purpose.”1 It also describes the basic policies for promoting science and technology diplomacy:

  1. Establishing systems in which Japan and its counterparts can enjoy mutual benefits,
  2. Generating synergy between S&T and diplomacy for resolving the global issues facing mankind,
  3. Developing “human resources” that sustain S&T diplomacy, and
  4. Increasing Japan’s international presence.”2

The paper also argues that Japan’s science diplomacy ought to place importance on strengthening S&T cooperation with developing countries for resolving global issues, S&T cooperation using Japan’s advanced S&T, and the basis for promoting S&T diplomacy. In fact, the advent of S&T diplomacy has been accompanied by stagnation in Japanese research and development and the growing presence of researchers from developing countries on the international scene.3 For example, according to a report by Japan’s National Institute of Science and Technology Policy, China has been increasing its presence as the key partner of the United States in producing joint papers. The rise of China as a superpower in science has certainly changed the landscape of S&T diplomacy, not only for Japan but everywhere in the world.  

Implementing Science and Technology Diplomacy

Japan’s S&T diplomacy is built around three pillars: research cooperation with developing countries to resolve global problems; research cooperation with technologically advanced countries to develop cutting-edge technology; and cooperation based on an equal partnership with East Asian countries.4 Some examples of initiatives that represent each of these three pillars are, respectively, the Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development program, the Strategic International Collaborative Research Program, and the e-ASIA Joint Research Program.

In 2015, Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) created a center in Bangkok, Thailand, to promote Japan’s S&T cooperation with ASEAN countries. MEXT hopes that having an on-site center to coordinate and promote various ongoing projects will further deepen Japan’s S&T cooperation in the region. In 2016, MEXT will create a similar center in India. These S&T projects by MEXT complement the efforts of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the prime minister to improve diplomatic relations with these same regions.

Science for diplomacy is not yet fully accepted as an important means to reestablish Japan’s relationships with East Asian nations such as South Korea and China. Nevertheless, the scientific communities of China and Japan have maintained a continuous effort to keep dialogue and cooperation open in areas that are important not only for the two nations but for the world, such as the environment and energy.

For example, China’s Academy of Sciences and Japan’s S&T ministries and funding agencies have hosted their annual meetings both in China and Japan despite the political difficulties. Moreover, the Japan Science and Technology Agency has organized a China-Japan university fair in China and Japan in cooperation with the Chinese Ministry of Education for more than three years. The number of participating universities from both China and Japan has been increasing constantly over the years.

In addition to these continued efforts, the Japan Science and Technology Agency started a new program called the Sakura Science Program to invite more than 2,000 students from Asia, particularly from China, to come to Japan. This program is targeting young students from high school and young researchers who have never been to Japan before. The Japan Science and Technology Agency will financially support their short visits to Japan. The person who started this program, Kazuki Okimura, just won the 2015 prize for international cooperation from China.

Looking Ahead

With the appointment of Teruo Kishi as adviser to the foreign minister, Japan’s science and technology diplomacy is entering a new phase. Kishi and his advisory board will meet regularly with diplomats to discuss the key S&T issues relating to foreign policy. To make this policy instrument truly effective, there are still many challenges to be solved, such as adequate resources to gather and analyze the intelligence necessary for timely policy decisions. Utilizing science in effectively implementing Japan’s foreign policy is just beginning. To achieve Japan’s foreign policy goals, the current administration must continue to institutionalize the ways in which Japan can incorporate science and technology more firmly into foreign policy, especially in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In Japan, the call for more S&T diplomacy began in 2008, when Japan was preparing to host the G8 summit as well as G8-related ministerial-level meetings (including the G8 S&T Ministers’ Meeting). This series of key diplomatic events was followed by the fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD IV). In the midst of the accelerating growth of emerging economies, Japan decided to make the most of S&T as a “soft power.” This year, Japan is once again hosting G7 summit meetings followed by TICAD VI. Science and Technology Adviser Kishi’s appointment in the Foreign Ministry demonstrates the progress that Japanese S&T diplomacy has made since then.

Atsushi Sunami, PhD, is vice president and professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo, Japan.


1 Council for Science and Technology Policy, “Toward the Reinforcement of Science and Technology Diplomacy,” Japan Cabinet Office, May 19, 2008.

2 Ibid., 7.

3 Atsushi Sunami, Tomoko Hamachi, and Shigeru Kitaba, “The Rise of Science and Technology Diplomacy in Japan,” Science & Diplomacy (March 2013).

4 Ibid.