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Letter to the editor: US-Japan digital cooperation is world-leading

Joseph M. Young is Charge d’Affaires ad interim, U.S. Embassy Tokyo.


The global outbreak of COVID-19 has spurred the rapid adoption of digital solutions in many aspects of our daily lives, from telework to takeout dinner orders. Fortunately, the U.S. and Japan were prescient in signing a digital trade agreement last October that established new international standards for digital commerce and other activity.


As global pacesetters in the online domain, our two countries are now poised to maximize innovation and opportunities for digital infrastructure development in wide-ranging sectors beyond the workplace.


Health care is one such sector. During efforts to manage the COVID-19 crisis, we have all seen the importance of leveraging innovative technology in patient care, contact tracing and the development of treatments.


In the digital space, telemedicine, or the practice of offering online consultation or diagnoses, has surged in popularity in the U.S. and Japan for the increased safety it offers to both patients and physicians in epidemic situations. Telemedicine has also improved access to health care providers, particularly for those living in rural areas with fewer hospitals and transportation options.


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has publicly described the possibility of making telemedicine a permanent feature of Japan’s medical system, and it is encouraging to see both of our countries reviewing regulations to support more extensive use of this service.


Education is another sector that is blossoming in the digital domain. Academic institutions in the U.S. and Japan are offering the tools that enable distance learning, linking teachers and students across continents and time zones. These tools have made it possible to sustain educational exchanges between our two countries, even during the pandemic.


The U.S. Embassy-sponsored Collaborative Online International Learning program, for example, provides a cost-effective, virtual exchange format that links six American universities with six Japanese universities. These sorts of programs are helping to accelerate innovation in online education and to prepare the next generation of leaders in our alliance.


Digital communication platforms are also driving new approaches to collaboration in scientific disciplines, freeing researchers from the tyranny of distance. For example, the American Geophysical Union and the Japan Geoscience Union have opted to hold their triennial conference this summer virtually, demonstrating the resilience of our scientific research relationships even during times of hardship.


The success of digital events like these will hopefully lower barriers to participation and result in even more scientific collaboration in the future.


The resilience of relationships between U.S. and Japanese organizations across the private and public sectors during this pandemic crisis is a testimony to the strong ties we share, from individual bonds between American and Japanese students to the close friendship of our countries’ leaders.


This resilience has been further strengthened by the U.S.-Japan Digital Trade Agreement and the profusion of digital platforms that have kept us connected and sustained our two-way commercial activity through the recent economic challenges.


As we begin gradually transitioning to the new normal, we should be encouraged by our two countries’ efforts to lead the world in digital innovation, making ours a partnership that transcends physical borders.

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