The Japan News Home to diverse indigenous peoples and immigrants from all over the world, Canada has drawn strength from its core values of multiculturalism and liberalism. Holding the Group of Seven presidency this year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to bring such issues as inclusive growth and gender equality to the fore at the June 8-9 G-7 summit in Quebec. Canadian Ambassador to Japan Ian Burney talked about his childhood experiences in Japan and the responsibilities the two nations have to fulfill, in an interview with The Japan News.
The Japan News: How did you encounter Japan in your earlier life?
Burney: My father also had a career with the Canadian diplomatic service, so I came with the family when he was assigned here at the embassy in 1965. We stayed all the way through until late 1972. We were here for more than seven years in all and that spanned the ages of 1 to 8 for me.
This was an unusually long diplomatic assignment because after completing a first full posting, my father was asked to stay on and become a Japanese language specialist. He then spent two full years studying Japanese full-time and then stayed on for another full posting. That’s why it ended up being seven years.
We just missed the [Tokyo] Summer Games in 1964 when we arrived but we were still here at the time of the Sapporo Winter Games in 1972 — all the more reason why I’m looking forward to the 2020 Summer Games here in Tokyo.
My experiences here were extremely positive. I took an immediate liking to Japanese food, which is something that’s only deepened over time. I learned to play baseball here actually, and it remains one of my favorite sports — after hockey, of course.
I thoroughly enjoyed Japanese television. I remember [superhero] programs like “Ultraman” and “Ultra Seven.” My favorite was “Kamen Rider.”
I remember distinctly being bitterly disappointed when our family returned to Canada and I discovered that these programs were not available on Canadian television. That was quite traumatic for an 8-year-old.
I recall also the amusement parks here in Tokyo. I particularly remember the rides of Toshimaen [in Nerima Ward, Tokyo]. I’ve been hoping to get my family also to go to Toshimaen so I can rediscover that with my own kids.
I went to Japanese public schools for most of the period I was here. At the time that I left, I spoke Japanese as well as I did English.
In fact, my greatest regret is that I wasn’t able to maintain Japanese language [skills]. I lost it once I returned to Canada. While I’m studying on a part-time basis while I’m here, I kept hoping that I would discover a secret cache where the language would be rediscovered, but unfortunately that is not the case. So I’m learning it in a more painstaking way.
Q: Which professional Japanese baseball team did you like in those days?
A: I did recall liking the [Yomiuri] Giants, I have to confess. The team closest to the embassy is the [Yakult] Swallows, so it’s the team that we see most often. But I make it a practice not to choose favorites, in the interests of diplomacy.
Q: How did your experience in Japan affect your subsequent life?
A: There’s no doubt my upbringing here has left me with a deep and abiding fascination for Japan.
I developed a very strong admiration for the civility of the people — the way they respect one another, and the extraordinary attention to detail that is brought to virtually all aspects of life here. I’d like to think that some of these positive traits of Japanese society have rubbed off on me and helped to shape my own character.
The interests I developed in Japan and then Asia — because I also had the opportunity to live in Seoul for a few years as a teenager — have shaped in many ways the choices and the interests that I have pursued in my professional career.
Struck by ardent Gould fans
Q: Do you think such cultural figures as novelist Lucy Maud Montgomery and pianist Glenn Gould have helped nourish Japanese people’s positive image of Canada?
A: Sure. Let me start by saying that this positive image is fully reciprocated on our side. Canadians have a very positive impression of the Japanese people, with whom we’re becoming more and more exposed through tourism, through student flows, through cultural and academic exchanges and so forth.
Definitely I believe that iconic Canadian cultural figures have helped us to promote our brand here. “Anne of Green Gables” [written by Montgomery] continues to be beloved by a great many Japanese. I think to a degree that would surprise many Canadians. Clearly, her very positive and independent-minded character has touched a chord with Japanese people, particularly among Japanese women, and I don’t see any signs of that dissipating any time soon.
I had the honor last year of hosting at our residence [musician] Ryuichi Sakamoto, who performed as part of a celebration to commemorate Glenn Gould’s legacy. I was really struck by how many ardent fans of Gould there are here in Japan, including among professional artists.
Oscar Peterson is another towering Canadian musical figure who had a huge influence here in Japan. He toured [here] more than 40 times during his career. In fact, his ties are so strong we’ve named our theater here at the embassy after Peterson in commemoration of those links.
Contemporary artists are also making a big impact. [Singer] Celine Dion will be performing at Tokyo Dome next month. [Circus group] Cirque du Soleil has been touring in Japan for over 25 years. They’ve reached millions of viewers. Since February of this year, they’ve been putting on their performance across Japan.
Q: Canada is expanding its commitment to East Asia in diplomatic and security fields. How does such engagement serve Canada’s national interest?
A: Working closely with Japan in support of global security and security in Northeast Asia is a very high priority for Canada, because we see enhanced stability in this part of the world as being important to strengthening our own security.
Last month, we signed an acquisition and cross-servicing agreement with Japan. That will enable our armed forces to interoperate more effectively with one another. We’re also demonstrating our commitment to increased security engagement in this part of the world through enhanced deployments of key armed forces personnel and assets.
Last summer, we had two of our top-of-the-line surface combatants, our frigates — HMCS Ottawa and HMCS Winnipeg — visit here in Japan and engage in joint exercises with the Maritime Self-Defense Force. Last fall, we had HMCS Chicoutimi here, and that was the first time we had a Canadian naval submarine deployed in Japan in almost 50 years.
We’re also working very closely with Japan and other partners in support of the international campaign to encourage North Korea to give up its nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction as well as its ballistic missiles programs, including by hosting the foreign ministers’ meeting in Vancouver in January.
A Canadian patrol aircraft and crew have now been deployed here in Japan to participate in a multilateral effort to strengthen the monitoring of international sanctions that have been imposed on North Korea.
We’ve also increased our diplomatic footprint across Asia, and Canada now has a direct presence in all ASEAN countries.
Q: What does Ottawa want to achieve in the upcoming Group of Seven summit meeting in Canada?
A: Our presidency is an important opportunity for us to try to harness G-7 leadership in addressing pressing global challenges, and trying to achieve progress in the five priority themes that we’ve established for our presidency.
The first is investing in growth that works for everyone, in other words, bringing G-7 leadership to bear in harnessing innovative approaches to growth that reduce poverty and inequality, and that includes by investing in gender equality.
The second is preparing for jobs of the future, by which we mean ensuring that our populations are equipped with skills necessary to take advantage of all of the opportunities that are presented by the advent of transformative technologies.
The third is advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment, and that includes addressing barriers that keep women out of the workforce, because increased female labor participation rates will result in faster and more inclusive growth.
The fourth is working together on climate change and on oceans and clean energy, and that includes strengthening G-7 efforts to promote a more resilient and healthy marine environment, which we know is a very important priority here in Japan.
The last and the fifth is building a more peaceful and secure world, and G-7 members will have an opportunity to discuss all of the pressing global security challenges.
I would expect that North Korea will feature very prominently given that the historic summit meeting between [U.S.] President [Donald] Trump and his North Korean counterpart is now scheduled to take place in Singapore three days after the [G-7] meeting.
Pacts for workers, middle class
Q: What roles do you think Canada and Japan share globally?
A: There is no doubt that populism and nationalism are on the rise and carry very strong protectionist overtones. That is frankly deeply worrying, particularly for trading countries like Canada and Japan that rely so much on open integrated global markets for our own prosperity.
Both of our countries need to continue to show leadership in the cause of open markets and free trade. I do want to salute the leadership that the Japanese government has brought to TPP following the U.S. withdrawal, which took considerable courage and foresight.
The Canadian government also continues to strongly champion the cause of open markets and free trade, and in that context has emphasized the notion of inclusive growth and pursuing a progressive trade agenda. That was the approach that we brought to the TPP 11 process. Canada played an instrumental role in reshaping that into the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership.
From our perspective, we have to counter the perception that trade agreements are first and foremost about serving corporate interests at the expense of workers and the middle class.
We’re seeking to do that by putting substantive, progressive elements at the center of our negotiating agenda. I’m talking about stronger provisions on labor and environment, provisions that address gender equality, indigenous rights, and taking an approach on investment that ensures that governments maintain the ability to regulate in the public interest.
We think that kind of approach is essential to broadening the basis of public support for keeping the markets and borders open, and for blunting the appeal of protectionist demands.
From my perspective, Japan is showing more and more leadership and more and more enthusiasm for promoting open markets and free trade around the world.
TPP, NAFTA on separate tracks
Q: Does Ottawa welcome Washington’s recent suggestion that it might go back to the TPP under certain conditions? Is there a possibility of renegotiating the pact? Would that depend on the ongoing renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement?
A: I would say the NAFTA negotiations are on a separate track completely from the CPTPP and so will not be affected by Canada’s participation in the CPTPP.
In principle, Canada welcomes the interest of any economy that’s prepared to take on the high-standard rules and high-standard market access commitments that are in the CPTPP, and that includes the United States. The United States is our largest and most important trading partner, so we welcome any opportunity that arises to strengthen that very important bilateral relationship for us.
That having being said, the United States has taken no formal step to seek to join the CPTPP, and I think it is fair to say that for the time being, our focus and priority is on ratifying and implementing the existing CPTPP, before engaging in accession negotiations with other partners.
With respect to modernizing the NAFTA, what I would say is that we believe that a fair agreement that benefits all three parties is possible and we’re working extremely hard to bring that about.
Q: As a top diplomat, how do you want to simultaneously pursue the values that Canada represents and the national interest that it needs to seek?
A: I tend to view the pursuit of values and interests as being two sides of the same coin when it comes to advancing our foreign policy priorities. I think one of the defining challenges of our time is the erosion of the commitment to our often-called “Western liberal values.”
I think the global institutional architecture that was put in place at the end of the Second World War — the Bretton Woods institutions, the WTO and the U.N. system and so forth — have really served as the backbone for the economic prosperity and the relative security that we’ve experienced since that time. I suspect that a great many of us have grown up taking all of that for granted.
But I think the hard reality is that these crucial underpinnings of our well-being are under threat around the world — to a greater extent today than at any time in recent decades.
One of the core messages that I convey in my activities here as ambassador is that against this backdrop of global uncertainty, it’s more important than ever for our two countries, Canada and Japan, and fellow G-7 members, to work together to shore up these values as well as to strengthen the multilateral system.
On the one hand, you could say that that’s about values, but on the other it’s very clearly a matter of national interests as well, and I think for both of our countries. Canada and Japan are well placed to play an active and effective role on the global stage.
This interview was conducted on May 15 by Japan News Assistant Editor Michinobu Yanagisawa.
Ambassador Ian Burney graduated from McGill University in 1985 and earned an M.A. in international relations from the University of Toronto in 1986. Entering Canada’s diplomatic service in 1987, he has been posted in such countries as Thailand (1989-91) and Vietnam (1995-97). Burney has assumed a number of key trade-related positions in Ottawa, including Assistant Deputy Minister, Trade Policy and Negotiations. He presented credentials to the Emperor in September 2016.Speech