Four Main Takeaways From the Third Japanese Trilateral Forum, Brussels

By Dr. Julia Macdonald

1. The Populist Wave:

By now it is abundantly clear that populism is afoot in the world — particularly in the U.K., U.S., and Europe — and perhaps to a lesser degree in Asia where Japan and India have witnessed their own populist movements. Looking ahead, U.S. and European leaders can learn from the likes of Abe in Japan and Modi in India; two leaders that have managed to harness their countries’ populist forces with some success. Modi is trying to do big things in India; and in Japan, Abe has achieved significant progress through strong, effective, and dynamic governance. It is time for the west to be humble and seek out friends elsewhere to see how they are riding their populist waves to accomplish great things. There are clear divisions in our countries and it is time we humbly address them and engaged in constructive conversation within our societies.

2. There’s Nothing Like Good Friends:

There is no escaping the fact that the United States is going to need its friends over the next few years, perhaps more than it has done for a very long time. Up until the election season, Trump existed in a very different orbit and he lacks significant experience with world leaders and in foreign policy. Because of this — and the uncertainty that it creates–it will be important for allies to step forward and offer guidance to the new administration. Japan has already led the charge with Abe and Trump’s first meeting last month. But Washington will benefit from a lot more from these kinds of conversations over the next few months.

3. The European Project:

Brexit is a big deal both in thinking about the continued unity of the European Union, but also the U.K.’s role in the world. When the U.K. leaves the union, the E.U. will lose a key driver of internationally-focused, strategic policy making during a time in which the temptation to turn inwards is strong. As the U.K. disengages, it will therefore be important for E.U. members to resist the temptation to withdraw from the international stage, and it is incumbent upon Europe’s allies to continue pushing for E.U. engagement.

Britain will also need help in navigating this new course. The relationship between Brussels and London will be key to paving a clear way forward, but other key allies like the United States and Japan can help too. Both countries share long-standing, historic relationships with the London and can help reconstruct U.K. identity and shape its role in the world outside of the E.U. Since an unmoored, lost U.K. doesn’t help anyone, steering London in the right direction will be beneficial to all.

4. Speculation, speculation, and more speculation:

2016 has been a year full of surprises, many of which challenge the fundamental tenets of the western liberal order. Given the recent nature of many of these events, as well as the uncertain outcomes of upcoming elections in France, Germany, and the Netherlands, much is still unknown about the future character of global politics. While this Forum provided participants with an incredible opportunity to engage on a wide range of important topics, there is an acknowledgment that insufficient time has passed to truly understand how these shifts are going to play out.

The good news is that by the time GMF’s fourth Japan Trilateral Forum comes around, we will know greater detail about the Brexit agreement, Trump’s policy priorities, the Russo-Japan relationship, European election outcomes, and much more. In other words, stay tuned for 2017. As one commentator put it, that will be the year for real action.

For more on GMF’s Japan Trilateral Forum, Brussels, follow the conversation on Twitter at #EUJapanUS and on the GMF Website.