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Seikyo Shimbun--The High Road to a Century of Peace (Dec. 25, 2001)

Soka Gakkai Honorary President Daisaku Ikeda shared his views on Japan and the world in the twenty-first century with the editors of Seikyo Shimbun, the Soka Gakkai's newspaper, discussing the issues of peace, culture and education, the role religion should fulfill in society, and the mission of the Soka Gakkai. This article based on that discussion was published as a three-part series in Japanese.

PART I (December 25, 2001)

Pondering the World and Japan In the Twenty-first Century

Seikyo: Let us begin with the terrorist attacks in the United States that rocked the world at the advent of the twenty-first century. Some believe that a clash between civilizations and hostility between religions led to the attacks. What are your thoughts on the fundamental issues relating to this incident?

Ikeda: Terrorism destroys the right of human beings to live in peace. Regardless of the motives or causes of terrorist acts, they can never be excused or justified. From the perspective of Buddhism and its belief in the sanctity of life, terrorism is an absolute evil.

Yet it would be mistaken to simplistically conclude that the recent attacks were the result of a conflict between religions or civilizations, a view that will surely provoke further tragic consequences. Even if the perpetrators are extremists of one Islamic affiliation or another, that must not lead to feelings of prejudice and ill will toward Muslims in general and their communities.

The Islamic world, comprised of some 1.1 billion to 1.2 billion people, is highly diverse, the vast majority of believers cherishing peace. It also has an illustrious intellectual tradition. Dr. Majid Tehranian, an Iranian national and director [from Feb. 1996 through Mar. 2008] of the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research, which I founded, is a symbol of this tradition. One of the things we noted during a dialogue that was subsequently published, is that history is replete with examples in which people of different faiths, including Muslims and Christians, have lived together as neighbors in peace.

As with the latest terrorist acts, a great majority of religious clashes can be ascribed to the exploitation of religion for political ends. People must see through to the truth of this fact, drawing together the collective wisdom of humanity in an all-out effort to bring about a fundamental resolution.

The United Nations designated 2001 the first year of the twenty-first century as the "Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations." If terrorism should plunge cultures into conflict with one another, then darkness will prevail over all societies and the entire world. With human civilization as a whole now being severely tested by acts of terror, we must devote ourselves from this very moment to the vigorous pursuit of dialogue at every level of society.

Seikyo: With increasing attention being paid to religion at this time, what is the primary purpose of religion in the twenty-first century, as you see it?

Ikeda: Religion must serve as a means through which human spirituality is revived and blossoms. It should act as a driving force to facilitate peace and harmony in society as well as individual happiness. To achieve this, we must return to and fully utilize the power of dialogue--and that, in my view, is religion's greatest challenge in the twenty-first century. The world's foremost thinkers are in unanimous agreement on this issue.

Ten years ago, I had the privilege of speaking with Dr. Elie Wiesel, the author who was among the first to expose the appalling truth of the Holocaust. He believed that religion today must be refocused on humanity and must serve to improve human well-being.

Yet the terrible truth is that countless lives have been sacrificed in the name of religion, a tragedy witnessed time after time over the course of history. The twentieth century was no exception. Having entered the twenty-first century, we must do everything in our power to avoid repeating this demonic experience, the very antithesis of what faith ought to be. That is why I have long called for religion to revive its service to humanity.

Religion may be classed into two types--one that lulls people to sleep and one that awakens them. The path religion in the twenty-first century must take is obvious. I believe religion must be reviewed from a different perspective, categorized by its contributions to humanity rather than denominational labels such as Buddhism, Christianity or Islam.

As I noted in my address at Harvard University ("Mahayana Buddhism and Twenty-first Century Civilization," September 1993), every school of religion should be studied to determine whether it empowers adherents or enfeebles them. Does it set them upon a path of virtue or of villainy? Does it make them wiser or more prone to folly?

The reason I emphasize the importance of education and dialogue is because they act as two wheels on an axis; both are critical in ensuring that faith does not careen out of control to become self-righteous zealotry.

Religious groups will only survive if they compete in fostering people who are determined to contribute to the betterment of society. Our times demand that people of all faiths focus their intellect and efforts on resolving the global challenges that lie before us. That is why the Soka Gakkai International (SGI) has promoted interfaith dialogue through a myriad of avenues. What is important for the world's religions is to stand upon the groundwork of dialogue, so they may compete and cooperate with one another in the task of ennobling human character and building peace for all.

Seikyo: What role has Soka Gakkai served in society since its founding? What will be the central objectives of its activities in the twenty-first century?

Ikeda: Originally despised as a gathering of the poor and sick, the Soka Gakkai has striven to alleviate the suffering of innumerable people, all of us working together to ultimately secure lives of happiness and glory. This is our greatest pride and joy. The Soka Gakkai has also served as an eloquent and effective platform for ordinary people, whose voices had been muted by the politically and ecclesiastically powerful, to speak out for the first time. The Soka Gakkai, in my view, unleashed tidal forces that had never been experienced in the annals of Japanese religion, altering the course of history.

Because it empowered ordinary people, creating a mighty force for peace, the organization's influence could not be ignored. The history of Japanese religion has been one in which the faithful have always obediently submitted to the whims of political power, a spiritual legacy that the Soka Gakkai has been redressing over the years.

Because of the assiduous effort and activities of our members, the Soka Gakkai stands upon the firmest of footings. With the advent of the twenty-first century, I believe we have succeeded in achieving most of the specific objectives envisioned by the first two Soka Gakkai presidents, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and Josei Toda. Nevertheless, given the epochal scale of Buddhism, which holds that its propagation in the Latter Day of the Law will extend for 10,000 years and beyond, I must say we have merely taken the first step in an epic journey.

Dr. Arnold Toynbee was a historian of great acuity who understood that history is created by subtle movements occurring deep beneath the surface. He was drawn to religion because he believed it possessed the capacity to bring about the peaceful coexistence and mutual flourishing of human beings.

We must not become distracted by the upheavals that frequently rock such realms as politics, economics or science, nor should joy or grief sway us. We must fix our gaze upon the eternity of life itself, looking out from a majestic vantage toward a future perceived in terms of one millennium or two millennia. That is the exalted path that the Soka Gakkai and SGI must travel in the years to come. As such, a primary task of the Soka Gakkai in the twenty-first century is for us to determine how we may best contribute to the development and flourishing of peace, culture and education throughout the world.

Seikyo: Turning next to political issues, what is your understanding of the relationship between religion and politics?

Ikeda: Religion seeks happiness for people, for the world to live in peace and to flourish. When a political system grows corrupt and the people are suffering as a result, protesting corruption is a matter of course and principle for people of faith. As the poet Whitman noted, at the core of every democracy resides a religious element.

Those who engage in political activities based on their individual religious beliefs and principles are not violating the Japanese Constitution, and neither does the relationship between the Soka Gakkai and New Komeito. This matter has been discussed in parliament and found to be constitutional time after time.

Once such activities are accepted as valid, the real problem is that people critical of Soka Gakkai-New Komeito ties have deliberately cast this as a church-and-state issue purely for political ends. That these people, out of political expediency, would exploit issues that have a direct bearing on the rights of ordinary citizens is particularly offensive.

At any rate, it remains imperative that we continue to exercise a strict vigil over Japanese politics from our vantage point as common citizens.

Seikyo: The Soka Gakkai has continued to endorse New Komeito since its founding. What do you expect of the party in the future?

Ikeda: Times have changed, but I would like New Komeito to remain faithful to its founding principle of serving the needs of ordinary people. While it already advocates a platform based on humanitarian principles that upholds human life and social welfare as the highest priorities, I look forward to the day when New Komeito shoulders the weightiest of demands as a political party truly appealing to all Japanese.

I would also hope the party assumes a broader view of Japan, aware that it is one nation among a community of nations. I say this because many people, both at home and abroad, harbor concern over Japan's rightist tendencies.

In any event, given the state of the world following the end of the Cold War, New Komeito will surely be tested as it attempts to navigate through the troubled waters of today. The party's political principles and policies will be examined more closely than ever. Still, as long as New Komeito lawmakers continue to address issues from the perspective of the people and make responsible political choices, they will eventually find the correct path to take.

Unfortunately, every time I express my views on the political situation, critics charge that I am mixing politics with religion. So I hope that my comments are understood as merely those expressed by the party's founder.

I truly hope that New Komeito will play a major role in securing a brighter future for Japan and the world.

Seikyo: The "structural reforms" being implemented by the Koizumi Cabinet are expected to exact a painful toll, swelling the lines of the unemployed and whittling away at welfare benefits. What are the negative aspects of the reform initiatives?

Ikeda: Granting that there may be cases in which reform entails hardship, it is the duty of politicians to institute measures in society that enable people to recover from their predicament. As economist Lester Thurow has said in the past, we must build a society that provides those who fail with other opportunities to succeed.

We must extend social safety nets to aid the poor and vulnerable. The reforms would be meaningless if ordinary citizens were sacrificed in order to achieve them.

Moreover, it's only right that politicians calling for reform subject themselves to its pain before anyone else. We Japanese have long waited for the advent of a true statesman, someone who heeds the people's cries of anguish and selflessly serves the public good.

The perquisites and privileges of politicians must be reassessed and reduced, corruption rooted out and the misdeeds of civil servants redressed. Following the examples of Yozan Uesugi and Moku Onda in the Edo period, those we entrust to lead should be the first to bear the burden of their own reforms.

If they do not, the public will never stand for it. The outcome of the reform initiatives pursued by Prime Minister Koizumi hinges entirely on this point.

PART II (December 26, 2001)

Religion's Task Is to Promote Dialogue, Re-inspire Humanity

Seikyo: What do you see as the most problematic issue confronting Japan at this time in the twenty-first century?

Ikeda: Japan faces a host of issues, but I think it comes down to a lack of vision. Just as people without a sense of purpose end up floating through their lives like driftwood, a society requires a clear and exalted calling if it is to function at its best. We have lost our bearings as to where we should be heading, what to strive for and for what purpose, casting human beings deeper into confusion.

So where can we find this "vision"? Only in philosophy.

While it is important to investigate and analyze the reasons for our current predicament, it is precisely because we have reached an impasse that we must return to the fundamentals and rethink what it means to be a human being and what kind of society we wish to shape.

Japan still retains significant economic and human resources; it only needs a guiding philosophy. Without it, our society inevitably heads towards mass conformity. People are merely engulfed by the dictates of the moment, swept along by circumstance--and the "breath of fresh air" that transforms history is lost.

When that happens, we run the risk of fueling apathy in society and fascism in politics, of the suppression of individuality in education and of culture being stripped of all its meaning.

I believe that Japan in the twenty-first century must strive to become a state founded on the principles of humanitarianism, where people take precedence over all else. President Makiguchi had already advanced this concept in clear terms a century ago, in his 1903 work, The Geography of Human Life. He predicted that the rivalry among nations over military, political and economic interests would give way to competition in humanitarian endeavors, and that this would become the defining movement of our times.

This is surely the way for Japan. Once we have chosen this direction, the meaning of life and the society we must build will naturally come to us as we set forth upon this path one step at a time.

Seikyo: Japan ranks among the most materially affluent nations in the world. Despite this, many Japanese are spiritually unfulfilled. Why is this?

Ikeda: I suspect the biggest reason is the tendency to compare ourselves with others in everything we do.

It's said that a growing number of Japanese have become "self-centered" or "egotistical." At the same time, such people are easily influenced by those around them or by the latest trends.

I believe it was Rousseau, in his novel Emile who admonished us not to compare ourselves to others, but to compare only our present self to that of the past. These are wise words, indeed.

Human greed is insatiable. As long as someone remains fixated with another person's lot, then he or she will never be satisfied. Unless we cultivate our own field, we will never enjoy what life truly has to offer. The Japanese have always been more susceptible to the group dynamic than most, and generally characterized by instinctive conformity. Young people in particular tend to become depressed when they compare themselves with their peers.

These are therefore my words of encouragement to our young people, who hold the fate of the twenty-first century in their hands: You were born into this world with a mission that only you can fulfill, to lead a life that only you can bring to flower.

Seikyo: With the birth rate declining, the population aging and the economy in a recession, Japanese anxiety over an uncertain future is soaring. What can people look to for hope?

Ikeda: As I said earlier, Japan still has formidable resources and vast reserves of vitality to be tapped. After all, the Japanese need only to recall the early postwar years, when they had nothing, to see how blessed they are today.

True, unemployment is on the rise, and there are numerous other causes for concern. Still, sinking into pessimism will never improve our predicament. According to Emile Alain, a philosopher I admire, pessimism is a product of mood, while optimism is the product of will. I can't help but feel that it is the weakening of this will that is further complicating problems.

Adding to this is my greatest concern: the unraveling of the ties that bond the Japanese to each other. Even in a society encumbered by fewer births and a burgeoning population of senior citizens, there should be someone each person knows who will spare a moment to share kind words, someone who can offer counsel in times of trouble. Such relationships provide so much meaning in our lives.

By sharing these ties, we all help support one another. Yet the relationships linking us to each other are now disintegrating, with the deterioration especially serious within the family and community.

People can only draw sustenance from their fellow human beings. The wellspring of humankind's "strength to live" can be found in a revival of the bonds that we make as we encourage and inspire one another.

Members of the Soka Gakkai are already doing this without even realizing it. They are engaged in a restorative process of incalculable worth. People with insight and sincerity are all fully aware of the peerless service the Soka Gakkai has rendered, as a safe harbor and beacon of hope for society.

We hasten to the side of people in distress, share in their suffering and inspire each other in our common struggle--this tireless yearning to help others, a manifestation of our humanity, is what drives the movement for what we call "human revolution."

Following the Great Hanshin Earthquake in Kobe in 1995, Soka Gakkai youth were quick to deliver relief supplies and engage in various programs to support the quake victims, activities which they undertook entirely on their own initiative. Similarly, in areas hit by earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters around the world, including India and Taiwan, and in countries such as Peru, Colombia and El Salvador in Latin America, members of the SGI Youth Division have arrived quickly on the scene, and been closely involved in relief activities.

The shining actions of these young people brighten our society, and give hope for our collective future. I hold the highest expectations for their united stand for peace and humanity, hopeful that it shall grow in both strength and scope. And I ask everyone to join me in supporting them in their task.

Seikyo: You spoke earlier of your belief in the need for Japan to develop into a "humanitarian state." What is most needed to make this a reality?

Ikeda: Education. It all comes down to education.

Japan spent the years leading up to the war basking in its military strength, and the years following the war basking in its economic strength. From now on, however, we must pride ourselves in our pursuit of education and culture, building a society that puts people above all other interests. To do so, we will need to do away with the outdated notion that education exists to serve the state, and embrace instead the understanding that the state and society exist to serve the happiness of children.

This principle should also be the basis of politics. As André Maurois contends, the aim of politics should be the saving of mothers and children. Everything must be done for the sake of the people, especially for every mother and child. That is why I have consistently called for society to cater to the needs of education.

The first two presidents of the Soka Gakkai were educators, and I have always believed that education is my life's work. That is because education serves as the cornerstone for every human endeavor, from individual happiness and social progress to world peace.

I am now conducting a dialogue with Moscow State University Rector Victor A. Sadovnichy, which is titled "Beyond the Century: Dialogue on Education and Society" [working title]. Both of us agree that a revival of education that summons forth the boundless potential of human beings is the most pressing challenge society faces today. The scholars and thinkers around the world with whom I have engaged in dialogue over the years concur with this view.

Seikyo: Turning to the issue of official policies on culture in Japan, there has been much talk recently about rediscovering the merits of traditional culture. What are your thoughts on this subject?

Ikeda: I've become painfully aware on every visit to Europe that there are few countries among the so-called developed nations that have forsaken their past in such wanton and callous manner as Japan.

Just as we are creatures inextricably tied to the natural environment, we are also inseparable from our "cultural environment" and its traditional roots--a fact we must heed more seriously. The unattributable sense of suffocation gripping Japanese society today suggests that its drive for modernization, achieved by discarding Japan's traditional culture along the way, has reached its limit.

What this means in terms of defining cultural policy is that, while modern factors such as the rapidly unfolding information technology revolution are crucial in their own right, it is equally vital to view them from the perspective of the interrelationship between human beings and their culture.

Seikyo: Bribery cases and scandals involving politicians are occurring as often as ever, and public mistrust toward politics only seems to be growing in Japan. What qualities must a politician have in order to achieve greatness?

Ikeda: When we look at Japan in recent years we find numerous examples of corruption and irresponsibility at the highest levels of authority, not only in politics but in the civil service, business circles and other areas as well. The sense of honor that is so vital in shaping the framework of human character seems to have melted away. This is a profound source of concern.

As long as this deplorable state of affairs exists in adult society, any discussion of the problems in children's education stands on very shaky ground.

We are now moving into the age of globalization at an ever-faster pace. In the end, the decisive factor in both politics and diplomacy on the international stage is people, with character and insight determining who achieves his or her goals and who fails to do so. Sadly many people would say there is a dearth of politicians today who demonstrate real character and integrity.

Consider this telling anecdote. After the war, General Douglas MacArthur is said to have asked the prime minister, Shigeru Yoshida, "Why do the leaders of Showa-era Japan seem so insignificant compared to their predecessors of the Meiji era? It's as if they lived in two different countries." Prime Minister Yoshida in turn queried a number of Japanese intellectuals. Their response was that the Showa politicians hadn't read the literary classics.

When one has such a great affinity for fine literature that its essence flows through one's very veins, then it subtly manifests itself in one's actions and words. The essence of refinement is not the mastery of superficial facts; it is contingent upon whether one's political principles are based on a profound philosophy.

I've sensed this in my meetings with the world's finest leaders and foremost thinkers, who also are distinguished by the lofty philosophical principles they embrace and their fine character.

We say Japanese society is becoming increasingly internationalized, but does foreign language proficiency alone qualify a premier or minister as a genuine statesman in this era of globalization? I think not.

It is more important to possess the kind of insight and vision that others can readily understand and accept, no matter where that person may be in the world. The parochialism of publicly elected officials in Japan simply will not suffice.

Furthermore, great literature grooms us in the ability to articulate issues and explain their gravity. Yet there is an alarming dearth of politicians today who take it upon themselves to discuss matters with the public.

Japan being a democracy, citizens have the right to be advised of state affairs in order to gain their consent. That may just be the core failure of Japanese politics--the unwillingness and inability of politicians to explain the issues, and their lack of accountability.

PART III (December 28, 2001)

A Mighty Current Towards UN-centered Peace

Seikyo: With such crises as the terrorist attacks in the United States and Middle East peace process in peril of bogging down, the world seems to be accelerating toward greater strife and division. What is the key to preventing the tragedy of the twentieth century, a century of war and violence, from being repeated?

Ikeda: To compound dialogue with dialogue. Most calamities in the twentieth century were caused by nations in conflict over political, economic and other interests. The twenty-first century must instead be transformed into an era "with a human face" in which humanity assumes precedence.

The critical challenge ahead is to enhance and expand the flow of dialogue over multiple avenues of communication, from summit meetings at which national leaders openly express their innermost concerns, to the "diplomacy" of private citizens arising from heart-to-heart encounters with one another.

Since the days of the bitter standoff of the Cold War era, I have repeatedly engaged in dialogue with people around the world. It was my belief in the efficacy of dialogue that compelled me, as a private citizen in the late 1960's and early 1970's, to work for the restoration of diplomatic relations between China and Japan and open the door to further exchange between Japan and the Soviet Union.

Seikyo: Visiting socialist countries at the height of the Cold War must have provoked intense opposition and ostracism . . .

Ikeda: I was berated for my plans, with some critics derisively asking at the time, "Why should a Buddhist travel to a country ideologically hostile to religion?".

Yet I went ahead and took that step forward. I did so because peace in Asia and a stable world was what President Toda had prayed for and envisaged. As his avowed disciple, I chose the eighth of September--the day Mr. Toda issued his Declaration for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons--to unveil my proposal for the normalization of Sino-Japanese relations in 1968 and the same date for my first visit to the Soviet Union in 1974.

While Japan's ties of friendship with China and Russia have blossomed over the years, the emphasis must now shift to the exchange of goodwill among common citizens. As the people of these countries learn more about each other and the bonds of trust and friendship are secured between them, this should act as an effective deterrent against any move toward war.

Mutual suspicion and mistrust lurk behind every war and confrontation. That is why it is vital for the people themselves to open as many windows of dialogue as possible.

Seikyo: You have met with the leading thinkers of the world on over 1,500 occasions to pursue and promote dialogue among civilizations. Who among these individuals impressed you the most?

Ikeda: Each was impressive in their own right, but I would have to say that Premier Zhou Enlai of China was the most striking of all. He was truly an outstanding person.

I met him in December 1974, roughly a year before he passed away. He was hospitalized in Beijing at the time. Given his illness, I initially declined his offer to see me as I felt it would only burden him, yet our meeting came about largely because of the premier's earnest persistence.

Premier Zhou was a man who shone with responsibility and compassion, having done everything in his power to protect the lives of a billion Chinese people and lead each and every one of them to happiness. I will never forget my encounter with him.

If I were to list others of equal prominence, the list would include former South African president Nelson Mandela and former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev. And there was Austregésilo Athayde, the "champion of the pen" and late president of the Brazilian Academy of Letters; the former president of Chile, Patricio Aylwin, who led his people to democracy; President Fidel Castro of Cuba . . . I could go on and on.

As you would expect, indomitable conviction is the hallmark of leaders who willingly risk their own lives for the sake of their people. And those devoted to revolution almost always embrace a philosophy that is as profound as the principles they uphold. They possess that "something" extraordinary that shines through from within.

Seikyo: For world peace to be achieved, the role of the United Nations must be further emphasized even as dialogue at the grassroots level is promoted. What kind of institution should the UN become in the twenty-first century?

Ikeda: For all its inherent limitations and imposed constraints, over the half-century since the end of World War II, the UN has gradually evolved to assume enormous meaning as a forum for dialogue in which the great majority of the world's nations participate. We must therefore cherish the institution for the sake of our common future.

The guiding principle that governs the UN this century must be "soft power" centered on dialogue and cooperation. Attempts to prevent conflict should emphasize the application of peaceful and pre-emptive measures rather than military means.

Moreover, the UN would be further empowered by bringing NGOs and other civic groups into a mighty grassroots lobby. The SGI for one has consistently backed the world body, and fully intends to support its activities in a variety of ways in the years to come.

Instead of insisting on a permanent Security Council seat, Japan could better serve the UN by contributing to areas such as those of environmental technology and human development programs where it already excels. I hope it would play a leadership role in implementing such initiatives, so as to render a service that is truly meaningful.

As for the issue of conflict resolution, the Japanese government should focus its diplomatic efforts on preventing war and adopt pre-emptive measures to keep tensions from escalating into violence. Therein lies the path through which Japan can be worthy of the spirit of both the UN Charter and the Japanese Constitution.

Seikyo: Turning next to questions on peace in Asia, there is concern that Japan has aggravated ties with China and Korea as a result of the prime minister's controversial visit to the Yasukuni shrine and the history textbook dispute. What policies and diplomatic initiatives should Japan adopt in Asia in the future?

Ikeda: Richard von Weizsäcker, the former president of Germany whom I have had the privilege of meeting, stated that those who close their eyes to the past are eventually blinded to the present.

Unless Japanese foreign policy is founded on genuine self-introspection over the mistakes our country committed in the past and a factual understanding of history, then I cannot see how Japan can build bonds of trust with other nations. Pilgrimages to the Yasukuni shrine by Japanese government officials are not only constitutionally questionable, they pose highly problematic issues in any discussion of Japan's role in the community of Asian countries as well.

Diplomacy cannot exist in the absence of trust--this is a point that President Toda stressed emphatically. The only real path to peace for Japan is to secure lasting trust and goodwill with China and Korea, a path that will inevitably lead to peace for all of Asia. It is out of the SGI's desire to help advance this cause that we have engaged in the promotion of educational and cultural exchange at the grassroots level.

I believe that 2002 will prove to be a particularly auspicious year for China, Korea and Japan. It marks the 30th anniversary of the restoration of Sino-Japanese ties, the co-hosting of the World Cup soccer tournament by Korea and Japan, and the 10th anniversary since relations between China and South Korea were normalized. It is also designated the year of exchange between the three countries' citizens, a splendid opportunity to promote peace in Northeast Asia. I hope 2002 will provide an occasion for Japan to renew its resolve to achieve everlasting friendship with China and Korea.

Seikyo: As noted earlier, 2002 marks the 30th year that diplomatic relations were restored between China and Japan. What are your views on China in the twenty-first century, given that you were one of the first Japanese to work towards the normalization of bilateral ties?

Ikeda: As seen in its recent entry into the World Trade Organization, China is making remarkable progress. I have visited China on a number of occasions since my first trip in 1974, and am I amazed by its development with every visit.

I had the opportunity to meet on two occasions with the man who many cite as the overall architect of China's modernization and liberalization policies of today, the late Deng Xiaoping. The economic prosperity China currently enjoys can be attributed to the foundations he laid many years ago. Gradualism is one of China's major strengths. Sun Yat-sen was outspoken in his opposition to the swift, radical solution to a problem, believing that it would only invite ruin and chaos.

As we enter the twenty-first century, China's role in the world will become more important than ever. In order to maintain global harmony and stability, China's extensive and extended involvement in the decision- and policy-making processes of the international community, even beyond the realm of trade and commerce, will be indispensable.

I recently spoke with Mr. Gorbachev, who I had not met for some time. He too has been drawn to China as a pivotal player in the world. The nations of Asia, he said, must cooperate with each other in a variety of fields, so they can create an environment that inspires mutual confidence.

Seikyo: Ties between China and the United States are currently improving. Given their rapprochement, how should Japan approach relations with China as well as the U.S.?

Ikeda: A rich tapestry of human interaction has been woven between China and Japan, a colorful history that spans China's introduction of Buddhism to Japan and the dispatching of Japanese envoys to China in the Tang dynasty. The two countries must prevail over the tragedy of the past war, with their eyes on the far future as they strive ceaselessly and without guile to establish trust and goodwill between them.

Soka University was the first university in postwar Japan to welcome exchange students from China. An ancient Chinese maxim has it that it requires a decade to nurture a tree to maturity, and a century to cultivate humanity. If it should take such time for people to truly flower, then the fostering of young men and women who will determine the destinies of both countries is certain to lay the foundations of a bilateral friendship that will last forever.

With this future in mind, I believe youth exchange programs between China and Japan must be actively promoted and sustained, for their importance will certainly increase in the years ahead.

Meanwhile, it is equally imperative to reinforce the relationship between the U.S. and Japan. This is an alliance that warrants preservation on a permanent basis, given Japan's postwar development and the key values shared by the two countries.

Far more meaningful than Japan designating which country, China or the U.S., is more important to its interests, our country must summon the courage to serve as a bridge linking the two.

Seikyo: From the standpoint of peace in Northeast Asia, how do you view the future of the Korean peninsula and ties between South Korea and Japan?

Ikeda: I am presently involved in discussions with Dr. Cho Moon-Boo, the former president of South Korea's Jeju (formerly Cheju) National University, which are being serialized in the monthly periodical on educational issues, Todai. This is the first time I have had a dialogue with someone from Korea published, and I am happy to report that the readers' response has been overwhelming.

Despite the geographic proximity of the two countries, Japan has never been able to forge a deep friendship with Korea. I am devoting the utmost effort to our dialogue, hoping that it will help provide the opportunity to bridge the chasm separating our two countries.

A country endowed with an illustrious legacy of cultural sophistication, Korea has been a generous cultural benefactor to Japan as well. And Koreans are an undaunted people who have never succumbed to adversity. While they have been subject to repeated invasions from neighboring states, they have always triumphed over the invaders in the end.

It took Japan to trample upon this proud, spirited people. No apology, no act of contrition can ever atone for the atrocities perpetrated against the Korean people under Japanese colonial rule.

Japan has always nursed a sense of inferiority, to China in the past and the United States in the present, which periodically manifests itself in a perverted compulsion to subjugate other countries. It cannot afford to remain estranged in this way. Only when Japan learns to respect the people of Korea and win their trust can this country call itself a truly mature, full-fledged member of the community of nations.

As for the future of the Korean peninsula, I expect that the process toward peace and stability, while encountering its share of vicissitudes, will continue to advance. To encourage its progress, Japan will have to extend aid and assistance in every way possible.

Whatever changes the future may have in store, however, the one eternal constant is that Korea will always remain Japan's nearest neighbor. It is thus imperative for both to do their utmost in learning to respect and trust each other.