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Japan State Minister for Foreign Affairs Yasuhide Nakayama (front row, center) met the Asian American Leadership Delegation’s (top row, from left) Trevor Ozawa, Hemanth Digumarthi, Daphne Ng, Ajay Malhotra and (front row, from left) Daphne Kwok and David Lin during the inaugural group’s six-day trip to Japan. Photo courtesy of Daphne Ng

JACL National President David Lin reflects on his participation in the inaugural Asian American Leadership Delegation.

David LinBy David Lin, JACL National President

I was truly surprised and honored when I was notified in February that I would be participating in the inaugural class of the Asian American Leadership Delegation (AALD), sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) of Japan in March 2015. The trip is intended to provide an opportunity for Asian Americans to learn more about key initiatives of the Japanese government and deepen their understanding of Japan and the strong U.S.-Japan bilateral relationship.

I have been involved with a number of Asian American community-based organizations for over 10 years. The genesis of my involvement was the community relations assignment I took with my former employer. Over time, my community relations job turned into my passion, and I became personally engaged with several organizations. It is with this backdrop that I was elected to the position of national president of the Japanese American Citizens League in July 2012, and I continue to serve on the boards of several other Asian American community-based organizations.

JACL has enjoyed an excellent relationship with the Embassy of Japan and the consulate generals in various cities in the United States through the hard work of several JACL past national presidents, including Messrs. Floyd Shimomura, Floyd Mori and Larry Oda. As such, I have had many opportunities working with the Embassy of Japan in Washington, D.C., in my official capacity. Given the fact that I am based in New Jersey, I developed a strong relationship with the consulate general in New York and specifically with Ambassador Sumio Kusaka there, prior to his appointment as Ambassador of Japan to Australia in April 2015. Still, being selected to be a member of this delegation was indeed an honor.

Our delegation consisted of six Asian Americans from different geographies in the United States, with varied backgrounds and vocations. In addition to myself, they are Hemanth Digumarthi, State Farm Insurance; Daphne Kwok, AARP; Ajay Malhotra, CBRE; Daphne Ng, Southern California Edison; and the Hon. Trevor Ozawa, Honolulu City Council member.

With the successful annual Japanese American Leadership Delegation in place for over a decade, it is commendable that MOFA is keen on broadening its outreach efforts in the United States with members of the Asian American community to further develop the relationship between the two countries through a delegation such as this.

Our agenda during the six-day visit, from March 14-21, was broad and varied and included meetings, briefing sessions, official dinners and visits to temples, Meiji Shrine, and the U.S. Naval Base in Yokosuka. In a nutshell, we had a week’s worth of immersed learning on many geopolitical issues and the current U.S.-Japan relationship. Equally important, we had many opportunities for exposure to Japanese culture and Japanese people through a number of person-to-person interactions. The following is a summary of my personal learnings:

  • During the various sessions, we were briefed on the importance of U.S.-Japan bilateral relations, in terms of the strong economic relations and cultural and people-to-people exchanges between the two countries.
  • We learned about Japan’s many contributions to global peace and prosperity through its involvement and activities with the United Nations. Of note was Japan’s contributions to the UN’s peacekeeping operations and its significant financial support.
  • We were briefed on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s initiatives to create “A Society Where Women Shine.” It is abundantly clear that Prime Minister Abe recognizes Japan’s low ranking in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index and is taking concrete actions to address the issue with specific and measureable targets.
  • We were encouraged by the significant progress made by the Reconstruction Agency regarding the Japanese government’s response to the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, even though issues and challenges remain toward a full recovery.
  • We had a visit to the U.S. Fleet Activities in Yokosuka to receive a briefing on the roles of U.S. Naval Forces in Japan and their missions.
  • We also had good dialogue with the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan. Since I work with several business organizations in the States, this visit has already paid dividends, as I was able to help make a connection for one such organization with the ACCJ during its recent trade mission to Japan.

As I reflect on this trip, one thing that I appreciate the most is having the access to many high-level government officials during the visit and the open and candid discussions that we were able to conduct on a number of sensitive subjects, such the current territorial disputes in East Asia, the comfort women issue, attitudes toward war-time history and others. These are issues being discussed within the Asian American community, specifically for Chinese, Japanese and Korean Americans. While we are all part of the larger Asian American community, these topics are just as difficult for us to approach among ourselves as we all look at these issues through our personal lens.

As an Asian American, I believe that we have a strong affinity and interest to what happens in Asia, and we take pride in the economic growth and prosperity in Asia. I also believe that peace and cooperation amongst Asian nations is the will of the people, and it is the best for all. As the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II approaches, I sincerely hope that Japan and its neighbors will somehow find a way, through diplomatic means, to put all historical issues behind us and move forward cooperatively to achieve even greater economic growth and prosperity.

In summary, I consider the AALD program achieved its stated goals, and it was a success with its inaugural class. I am honored and grateful for this great opportunity to be a member of this delegation. When I look back, I can clearly see that my perspective about Japan was broadened through this exchange. As I continue my position with the JACL and my volunteer work in the community, I look forward to engaging in dialogues on issues related to Japan and on the U.S.-Japan relationship in a much more informed and objective manner.