Interview: Special Advisor to Cabinet of PM Shinzo Abe, Tomohiko Taniguchi

sdm.keio.ac.jp

Emir Eksioglu – COVID-19 is all the whole world talks about now and of course it’s the same in Japan. Japan is combating COVID-19 with an unprecedented success. The Japanese Government, known for its respect and industriousness, has allocated such a great budget for COVID-19 that the sum is more than most European countries’ GDP.

I talked to Tomohiko Taniguchi about this, who is one of the most esteemed professors in the country and in the world and is also PM Shinzo Abe’s advisor. He emphasized that even Japan cannot get complacent about COVID-19.

What’s your comment on COVID-19?

One could not have ever imagined, not to mention predicted, that in the middle of this century humans would still suffer from the worst kind of plague such as this. In Tokyo, Osaka, and across the country, Japan is struggling daily, as is being done anywhere else, to put the pandemic under control. Though it was regrettable that TOKYO2020 had to be postponed till next year, the plague seeing no border across the world, one can now only hope that the whole world could rejoice at the victory humans will have achieved over the deadly virus when the Olympic torch gets lit again next year.

Japan announced the best relief packages in this period. While making these decisions, what are your priorities?

Priorities ought to be, first, those most severely affected individuals should get as much relief as necessary, second, negatively affected businesses should be able to finance their debt most easily, while being able to pay no taxes in the meantime, and third, service and tourism sectors, among the most severely hit, should benefit from quick recovery measures.

All in all, the package soon to be put in place amounts to a gross total of 108 trillion Japanese yen, some 20 per cent of the country’s GDP that is more than three times as big as South Korea’s. It is as if an entire economy of the Netherlands, or the combined sum of those of Norway, Denmark and Finland all of a sudden emerges. It is incumbent upon big nations such as Japan to shoulder the responsibility to put the world economy back on a healthy track, which is basically the government of Japan is trying to do now.

Despite being one of the nearest countries to China, where the virus originated, you were better prepared than European countries. What’s the difference between countries like Italy, Spain, USA and Japan?

Long gone are the days when Tokyo’s handling of the infected cruise ship named Diamond Princess gathered harsh criticism from BBC, CNN and the like. The plague soon started to kill hundreds, and then thousands of people in Italy, Spain, France, Britain and the United States whereas in Japan the death toll at this writing still numbers below five hundred.

I am not interested though, in blowing my own horn here, for the country has absolutely no luxury of being able to be complacent.

What kind of changes will occur in the world post-COVID-19?

Universal health coverage will gain renewed focus from the world over. Paths of growth for developing countries will be reconsidered from the one that has put emphasis on physical infrastructures to the one that gives a more balanced weight to health of people.

In the developed countries as well, societal divides between the rich and poor and among the classes will feature more largely in each country’s political discourse. Also, human health being the most important public goods, the World Health Organization should exclude none. Taiwan should be given an observer’s seat at the organization.

Turkey has helped a lot of countries by sending medical equipment. Has there been any cooperation between Japan and Turkey in this period?

One of the pills that have shown effectiveness in combating the virus, named Avigan or generally known as Favipiravir, is on its way to Turkey from Japan, where the medicine was developed by a local pharmaceutical company. Costing nothing, the recipient, in this case Turkey, is requested to send back to Japan the scientific evidence collected from the patients.

Also, in the refugee camps scattering in and around Syria, where Turkey has been doing a lot of humanitarian assistance, Japan is handing out money and in-kind assistance through UN affiliated organizations. One of Japan’s aid organizations, called Association for Aid and Relief, Japan, which has long since been working in Istanbul and other areas in Turkey to help support Syrian refugees living in those places, is providing the Arab speaking refugees with local language support, provision of medical kits including facial masks, and assistance in helping them to visit local hospitals, all supported by the money coming from Japan’s grass-roots.

Besides Japan, which countries has taken the right steps in the fight against the virus?

The most unsung hero here is without question Taiwan. The second and third best will be Vietnam and Mongol. When things have gotten calmer, we should all pay serious heed to what they have to say about how they have survived the pandemic.

Japan is a really important country in terms of technology. How’s Japan doing in the health and biology sectors? For instance, how are things coming along for COVID-19 vaccine?

Aside from Avigan, which is what the one-time photographic film giant of Fuji Film is producing, medicines that find their roots in the findings of one of Japan’s Nobel laureates, Dr. Ōmura, Satoshi (surname and first name), are being used on the front line of the anti COVID struggles. For instance, one such drug called Ivermectin is found to be an inhibitor of the COVID-19 causative virus. Now is the time for scientists from the world over to put their knowledge together to fast develop anti COVID vaccine.

A big economic crisis is expected after COVID-19. What are your expectations for the economy post-COVID-19?

Boom should follow bust. Given the acuteness of the economic downfall we are now experiencing, it is highly likely that the post-corona recovery will be as strong. Demand being pent up, the world economy will witness one of the steepest curves of ascendance. Well, who could say otherwise when enough is enough on the virus?

About the Author
He published articles in important institutions such as Huff Post, Independent, Times of India, Economic Times, Jerusalem Post, U.S. News, Foreign Policy, Fortune, Tehran Times and was introduced as the youngest media boss thanks to some of his investments in Turkey. He has done interviews with a lot of important people on an international level. Eksioglu, who is active in the field of international relations, works as an Ambassador for Switzerland-based Horasis, which is one of the most reputable think-tanks. Eksioglu enjoys doing projects on technology, diplomacy and animal welfare. His biggest passion is Trabzonspor.
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