As of May 06, 2020, over 15,253 people in Japan have been infected with COVID-19, and 556 individuals have passed away. The Shinzo Abe government has tackled the spread of the virus by quarantining the Diamond Princess cruise ship (which at the beginning of its quarantine had ten infected people on board), calling for school closures, conducting travel restrictions from overseas countries, as well as encouraging citizens to stay home and telework. Meanwhile, from April 03, 2020, the U.S. embassy in Tokyo urged American citizens in Japan to return to the United States as soon as possible. It was explained that a test of “polymerase chain reaction” (PCR) to test potentially infected people for the virus was unavailable and insufficient in Japan, and that it was difficult to accurately account for the real number of positive cases in Japan.
Japan’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic as Human Security Crisis
On April 07, Prime Minister Abe announced a national state of emergency in seven cities including Tokyo, yet the measures were criticized as slow and indecisive both domestically and internationally. Given the casualties around the rest of the world, it is no exaggeration to say that the spread of COVID-19 is a crisis in “human security”. In the middle of the unprecedented human security crisis that the coronavirus pandemic has wrought, it is critical for the Japanese government to both save lives and simultaneously facilitate international cooperation in the global health sphere to combat COVID-19. It can be hypothesized that the coronavirus crisis has provided an opportunity to enhance Japan’s human security policy and global health strategy. But what does Japan’s human security diplomacy and global health strategy include? How can they contribute to mitigating and solving the COVID-19 pandemic?
The Development of Japan’s Human Security Diplomacy
Ever since the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) published their concept of human security in 1994, the Japanese government has integrated it as one of the core pillars of its diplomatic policy. Likewise, the Abe government has facilitated Japan’s human security diplomacy, and moreover, advocated its “global health strategy”. For instance, a commentary by Prime Minister Abe entitled, “Japan’s Strategy for Global Health Diplomacy: Why It Matters”, was published on September 14, 2013 in the internationally renowned medical journal, Lancet. As an example of Japan’s strategy on global health initiatives, Abe raised Japan’s commitment to the 5th Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD V) held in June 2013, in which the premier called for the promotion of UHC and announced 500 million USD of financial aid for the facilitation of a global health system.
On December 12, 2015, Abe’s commentary, “Japan’s Vision for a Peaceful and Healthier World”, was published in Lancet again. Abe confirmed that “Japan has been a longstanding advocate of human security” and referred to the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” adopted in the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015. Among the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the prime minister stressed the importance of universal health care (UHC). In the keynote speech at the TICAD VII on 28 August 2019, Abe stated that UHC is a quintessential example of “Brand Japan” and that Japan would work together with the “Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization” (GAVI). Abe contended that Japan fully supports the efforts of the “World Bank’s Pandemic Emergency Facility”, and called for coordination between the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank. He argued that the Japanese government would contribute to bringing together the expertise and resources for a global health system, including WHO, the World Bank, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, as well as GAVI.
Japan’s Global Heath Strategy in Action: The Development of Coronavirus Vaccines and Medicines
Given Japan’s human security diplomacy and global health strategy, it can be argued that the Abe government needs to make more proactive contributions to combatting COVID-19 in the field of medicine and global health through promoting vaccine development and the production of effective medicines. On March 28, 2020, Abe announced that the Japanese government would provide the “boldest ever” economic measures package of 56 trillion yen (518 billion USD) to help reinvigorate the weakening Japanese economy affected by COVID-19. At the same time, he stated that the government would approve the use of an anti-flu medicine, Avigan, as a treatment for the coronavirus-infected patients.
Avigan (generic name: favipiravir), a product of Fujifilm Toyama Chemical Co., is purportedly able to shorten the recovery period of patients infected with COVID-19. Yet, Avigan has proven side effects for pregnant women, and it was reported that clinical trial of Avigan for COVID-19 patients would not be completed until the end of June 2020. Notably, the Abe government announced that Japan would offer Avigan to countries that wish to use it as a treatment of patients infected with COVID-19 free of charge. More than 30 countries subsequently requested for Japan to provide Avigan. On March 31, 2020, Fujifilm started the clinical tests and on April 02, 2020, the German Health Ministry stated that they would purchase Avigan tablets from Japan.
On April 27, 2020, the Abe government submitted a supplementary budget of 25.69 trillion yen (240 billion USD) as a package of emergency measures to mitigate Japan’s economic damage and satisfy the basic needs of its citizens. This budget will enable the government to provide 100,000 yen for all registered residents in Japan. Significantly, the supplementary budget was swiftly enacted on April 30 in order to accelerate the development of a coronavirus vaccine. Notably, the budget draft allocated to the domestic vaccine development is 10 billion yen, whereas it was estimated that 21.6 billion yen would be necessary for the international research and development of the vaccine in cooperation with international organizations.
The COVID-19 pandemic has in some way provided an opportunity for the reinvigoration of Japan’s human security diplomacy and its role in the existing global health networks. As agreed between Abe and WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom on March 30, 2020, Japan is expected to contribute to the development of a coronavirus vaccine and medicines in cooperation with other countries and international organizations, particularly WHO and GAVI.
Likewise, it has to be emphasized that Japan’s global health strategy to combat COVID-19 will be enhanced in collaboration with leading non-governmental organizations, such as the Rotary Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as international promotors of a global health system. Through the international cooperation to combat COVID-19, Japan needs to make a more proactive contribution to promoting the establishment of a global health system in this human security crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.