Atsushi Sunami: Ensuring International Mobility of Researchers Vital

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Atsushi Sunami

As confrontations escalate between the United States and China, economic security is becoming increasingly important. Amid rapid advances in artificial intelligence and other scientific and technological areas, Atsushi Sunami, the president of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, discussed some of the measures that Japan should take.

Yomiuri Shimbun: How do you evaluate Japan’s current scientific and technological capabilities?

Atsushi Sunami: With the emergence of AI and other technologies, the role of science and technology as a security tool is becoming greater and securing advantages in the field is quite important. Compared to countries experiencing rapid technological advancement, like China and India, Japan’s scientific and technological capabilities are in relative decline. In order to reverse the trend, fundamental reforms are vital.

Yomiuri: What measures should Japan take?

Sunami: People are the foundation of innovation. So, the first step is to create an environment that allows next-generation Japanese researchers to produce results. Furthermore, it is also necessary to establish a system for “brain gain” to bring experts into Japan, which faces population decline, so that foreign researchers can trigger innovations.

To achieve this, Japan should increase the mobility of researchers by catching up with international standards of research environments and funding. It is paramount that the mobility of global talent is ensured, which is currently Japan’s weakest area.

Yomiuri: Regarding economic security, preventing the outflow of core technologies is an issue.

Sunami: It is essential to introduce, as early as possible, a security clearance system (see below) under which the government grants individuals access to classified information.

Looking at the international situation surrounding advanced science and technology, the world is clearly divided between two types of countries — there are allied and friendly countries conducting joint research to share results and then there are all other countries. If Japan is not seen as having a system to ensure secure sharing of information, friendly countries will not collaborate with Japan. As a result, Japan will be further isolated from the international community in terms of scientific and technological capabilities.

This year, the United States will hold a presidential election. Japan needs to introduce such a system before the election in order to create an environment in which the United States, no matter who is president, regards Japan as the most reliable partner for the interests of the United States.

Yomiuri: How do you see the science and technology policies and economic security policies of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s Cabinet?

Sunami: They are generally great. The government established the economic security promotion law in May 2022 while it positioned the promotion of science and technology as a driver of growth within the government’s “New Capitalism” policy.

However, the message from Japan to the rest of the world is a weak one, which is an issue. The perspective of how to make Japan’s advanced technologies gain recognition in the international community should come first. If Japan disseminates more information about the measures it takes, such as the government’s ¥10 trillion university fund, it will help increase the number of researchers in foreign countries hoping to conduct joint studies with Japanese institutions and strengthen mutually trusting relationships with friendly nations.

Yomiuri: How should Japan deal with economic coercion, which refers to the attempt to put pressure on a politically opposed country by introducing import and export restrictions and other measures?

Sunami: While the threat of economic coercion is growing, the issue should be resolved by the countries concerned. For that, cooperation with friendly nations is of the greatest significance. At the end of last year, Japan and Southeast Asian nations worked together and adopted a joint statement aiming for decarbonization in Asia. This is a good example to show how Japan can cooperate with friendly nations through advanced technologies. Just like this case, I would like to call for the government to strengthen its footing through Japan’s technological capabilities.

— This interview was conducted by Kosuke Iwamoto, Yomiuri Shimbun staff writer.

Security clearance system

A system in which the government conducts background checks on government officials and citizens to grant them authority to access and handle classified information related to economic security. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida aims to submit relevant bills to this year’s ordinary Diet session.

Atsushi Sunami

Graduated from Georgetown University in 1988. After working at the Nomura Research Institute and other places, he obtained a PhD in political science at Columbia University in 2001 and served as a special advisor to the Cabinet Office from 2015 to 2018. He has been in his current position since 2020.