On June 6, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with Pope Francis at the Vatican. The two leaders touched upon a variety of topics ranging from the good bilateral relationship between the two states to situations in Asia and other regions, as well as the respective endeavours by Japan and the Catholic Church to tackle poverty in the neediest nations, notably sub-Saharan countries. In addition, Abe extended to the Pope an invitation to visit Japan, to which Pope responded warmly.
The Vatican (the Holy See) is the smallest yet most prominent "moral power" in the world. It almost always sends the world important and powerful messages even on secular matters such as conflict, peace and poverty, drawing attention even from secular states and the non-Christian world. By contrast, Japan is a non-Christian yet important "secular power" of the world, notable for realism and pragmatism.
As Abe had anticipated, the summit proved successful and significant as a dialogue between leaders of these two important world powers-a moral power and a secular power. The two leaders succeeded in sending to the world a positive message that the two states are ready to closely work together for peace and other common causes in the future. However, the summit turned out to be all the more significant because it was a dialogue between the two like-minded states.
Like-minded? Yes, in three senses: their pacifism, their diplomatic culture and their perspective on global issues. This is a view I nurtured during my four-year ambassadorship at the Vatican. Allow me to explain.
First, the two states are like-minded in terms of pacifism. Successive popes in modern times, such as John Paul II and Benedict XVI, were well known as "missionaries of peace." Likewise, successive Japanese prime ministers of the last seven decades were also peace-lovers, so much so that Japan has never participated in any warfare since the end of World War II.
Naturally the two states have different identities-one is a purely moral power with no army while the other is a secular power that needs "muscle" for defence although its capacity is seriously restricted by the world's most pacifist Constitution. To rephrase, the Vatican is a moral pacifist who thinks and acts idealistically whereas Japan is a secular pacifist who thinks and acts more realistically and less idealistically.
Japan's realism is illustrated by its reliance on US forces through the Japan-US Security Alliance. Their pacifisms are, therefore, different in tone and colour. Nevertheless, this very difference makes dialogue between the two leaders richer and deeper as a good amalgam of idealism and realism.
Francis is a very proactive peace-lover in offering prayers for peace-for Syria, Ukraine, Sri Lanka and other conflict-ridden countries. For instance, on June 8, he took the bold and unprecedented initiative to invite the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to the Vatican to pray together for peace in Palestine and Israel. In this regard, he is a visible, active leader-much more so than his predecessor.
Abe is no less proactive than the pope in terms of searching for peace via such mechanisms as UN peacekeeping operations, as well as assistance programs for poverty alleviation in Africa and elsewhere. He is also a visible, active leader.
Both leaders are like-minded in their aversion to being passive bystanders. Both are keen to streamline and restructure their bureaucracy. Thus, the summit turned out to be meaningful.