Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech in Japan ("International Relations and Japan")

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Japan
Source: Thatcher Archive: transcript
Editorial comments:
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 2424
Themes: Civil liberties, Defence (general), Higher & further education, Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Law & order, Media, Science & technology

Mr. President, Your Imperial Highnesses, ladies and gentlemen: first, may I thank you all and this distinguished university for the supreme honor you do me in giving me a Doctorate in Politics.

I hope you think that after 33 years in politics I have worked quite hard for my Doctorate. Quite a long course of practical study, preceded of course by many years of study in my own university of Oxford. But the college which I attended, Somerville, was not founded until well after this university. Your university was founded in 1848, Somerville in 1879, so it is you who are the senior partner today, and I who am the junior partner.

I know full well that Japan is very aware of the importance of education to the success, both of your manufacturing and commercial life, as it is to the quality of life. Indeed, I think your spectacular economic development owes very much to your high educational standards and to the percentage of your people who come and study at university.

This university has a long and very distinguished tradition. The early universities were true communities of learning for its own sake. Often they grew up around inspiring teachers, and this probably, both, because of its original purpose. The fact that the teachers were of the best gives us a precious insight into what makes a university a good university at any time and at any place.

Today, a university also has to provide for vocational objectives and qualifications. It must provide the knowledge and skills required for economic progress, but this, too, is best done in a community of learning which pursues intellectual excellence. This ensures that however much [end p1] we rightly specialize or pursue vocational objectives, we all remain aware of that wider civilization which has grown down the centuries, which has shaped all that is best in our lives, and which is our duty to conserve and develop.

You teach science; you teach law; you teach politics. I took my first degrees in science, in chemistry, at Oxford. I became qualified as a lawyer, and I have practiced politics, so I am quite a good example of your university. But I thought it best, for the few words in which I say to you, to take each of those subjects and indicate the enormous contribution they have made to the changes of this century and are still making and will make into the next century and will help to solve some of our problems.

We have lived through a century of change which has been brought about by scientific discovery applied to the needs of today, an amount of change that I do not think will be exceeded in any coming century.

The beginning of the century saw massive research being applied to solving some of our medical problems, and later, some of our environmental problems. The latter half of this century has seen the age of automation and the information age, the age of the computer, which has changed the life of every person. You in Japan have excelled in turning that scientific knowledge into products which everyone can buy, and your name is known for all electronic products: for computers, for televisions, and so on.

There are two political factors under the heading of science to which I would like to refer as having been especially influential in the political scene.

First, those scientists who had to live under communism, like, for example, the famous Sakharov, were told they had to think with their scientific part of their brains. Of course, the communists could not limit their thought to what was useful to the advance of communism, and so they were the first to apply their thinking to undermining that evil empire, and it was no accident that it was Sakharov, a remarkable nuclear scientist, who began to lead the effort against communism because it was against the fundamental nature of the freedom of the human spirit. So you had the communist regime trying to take advantage of science, and finding that eventually the people who got the scientific discoveries were also the people who started to liberate, started the period of liberation, for the people under that regime, and of course, started the effort to bring down the whole of the communist system.

The other factor under the heading of science is this. We call it an age of information technology; that doesn't really describe the extent of what it does. For the first time in our lives, television pipes the news, some of the scenes of violence, some of all of the good things that we see, into every living room. Television, like so many discoveries of science, is neutral; it can be used for good or bad. On the whole, I think that it shows us far more good things than bad. And when it does show us some very bad things, it tells us what we have to do to remedy them. But in fact, it gives us an informed people, not only in one country but eventually in the whole world because no government will ever be totally able to isolate their people from outside information, and dictators have to survive on isolating their people from facts from the outside world. So science will have been of tremendous benefit, again in that respect, in helping liberty to peoples who still have to live without it. [end p2]

Having taken my first degrees in chemistry and specializing in X-ray crystallography, I was often asked why did I then turn to law, isn't it so very different from science? And I used to say “no, not so very different; in science there are right answers” . There are not always right answers in law or politics, but in science there are, although it would take us some time to find it. But the method is very similar to that of law. First, find your facts. Observe what happens. And then apply the known law to those facts. You have to do that in science. You have to do it in a court of law. And it's a very good idea in politics, if you find the facts before you make a speech.

But just as there are fundamental laws of science, so there are fundamental laws of justice. Law must apply equally to everyone. It must be a law that is fair and is equitable. I always like to think that this was one of the great contributions that we, in my country, made to the life of freedom. We knew there can be no freedom without a just law, a law which applies equally to everyone, a law which is administered independently by judges, a law which applies to governments as well. It is the law, the just law, which makes freedom work for everyone; otherwise freedom would be the power of the strong to oppress the weak. It is the law which prevents that and makes freedom work.

Why is it specially significant at this time? Why do I raise this point? I raise it because of my experience, again, in dealing with countries where a dictatorship has prevailed. When the Cold War came to an end in Russia, democracy didn't suddenly break out. Why? Because for democracy, you need parliamentary institutions of a free country—they didn't know quite about those; they were under the old constitution—and you need an independent rule of law. And all they had was the daily dictate of the Communist Party. There was nowhere they could go to get what you and I would call justice. The judges were not independent, they were members of the Communist Party and took instructions. My friends, I think we assumed too easily that once tyranny had gone, freedom and law would very quickly come. It takes a time, and it is one of those things which is making it so difficult to get a genuine democracy in Russia. I'll tell you about China in a moment.

And negotiating both with Russia and then with Deng Xiaoping in China, I learned also how fortunate we were to have a rule of law in Hong Kong, which had been invoked by we British and been established throughout the time we had been there, and it was brought home to me very directly when one of the people in China, when he thought there was a run on the Hong Kong dollar, said to me, “Stop it, stop the dollars going out of Hong Kong, stop the freedom of exchange control” . And I said to him, “I can't, I haven't the powers to do so, our law does not give me the powers to do so” . I had great difficulty in explaining, “Yes you can, just tell them” . Fortunately, the Governor of Hong Kong was with me and duly explained: “No, neither the Prime Minister of Britain nor the Governor of Hong Kong has powers to stop foreign exchange flowing in and existing currency from flowing out” . And they had no idea what we were talking about. Later, of course, we learned there was no contract law, there was no commercial law, there was, later also in Russia, no law of private property. So how did anyone in that country have any defense against the might of a tyranny? How could any investor be certain that he would protect his investment?

I'm sure this university, by having many students from those countries who've previously lived under communism, you can help them to come to [end p3] the significance and understanding of the role of law in a country which is espousing the strenuous virtue of liberty and personal responsibility.

Now I come to the third thing, the politics, where I've had such a long schooling. For most of my political life, the world was almost fractured into two portions, the communist side, because Stalin refused to disarm after the end of World War II, and because communism had an objective which was not limited to the Soviet Union but which they tried to extend to the whole world. They extended it by having very strong military might, by subversion, by proxy as they put, say, Cuban troops in Africa and also East German advisors, and then by military government as they had in Poland. So we had the world into two—I don't say two ideologies because that almost tries equate the communist total dictatorship with the freedom we enjoy—into two different political views.

I sometimes think it is not wholly realized that communism was the most total tyranny the world has ever known. In addition to its brutality and all of the terrible things that are known about the world's dictators, communism operated by taking away all land without any compensation and at gunpoint, and by taking away all jobs so everyone became the servant of the ruling party. No one had any human rights, no one had any recourse to go to. To get rid of this terrible system, that came later to China than to Russia, we in the West required four things: greater military might than the communist system, so Ronald Reagan and I set out to increase our expenditure on defence, to increase our scientific technology, to overtake the Soviet Union; secondly, we needed to fight the battle of ideas, which we did through the increased technology I've spoken of, through radio, through getting messages through about the true facts of our way of life and our prosperity and our freedom; thirdly, we needed help from within, from the so-called dissidents. I mean the Sakharovs there, the Solzhenitsyns there, the Ratushinskayas there, the Bukovskys, the hundreds of people who we will never know, who were trying to get the message of liberty through; and fourth, we needed some of the younger members, some of the younger politicians in Russia, who we thought, after so many years of what to us seemed a terrible system, might realize that it offered neither personal dignity nor prosperity and was contrary to the human spirit. Ronald Reagan and I and other democracies—yours too—tried to do all of those things. Miraculously, we and the people within some of those societies succeeded, and we brought about the end of the cold war.

The collapse of that evil empire is the greatest event in my political life. And it couldn't have happened unless we'd had the fourth thing, that is a younger generation of politicians who weren't content just to take the official propaganda at its face value, but used their own observation and understanding. [end p4]

You will know because Russia is a Pacific power and China is a Pacific power; Russia also is an Atlantic power, you will know that the two great communist, and one ex-communist, countries have taken different ways out of their communism. Russia, by being given, by Mr. Gorbachev, personal and political liberty, so that they had freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom of debate, freedom of association, freedom of television cameras to go in and see what their representatives were saying, and eventually freedom of election. Personal and political liberty, which brought down that evil empire. What Mr. Gorbachev did not know how to do, because there was no tradition of it in Russia, was to bring about an enterprise economy. You and I could have told him, and Japan in particular, but he didn't know how to do it, and the people had no experience of initiative or enterprise, no experience of ownership. It's going to be much slower to get the economic liberty, the choice of goods and services there, than it is in China.

China is different. In China, the rulers want to hang on to their political power, but are nevertheless prepared to release it enough for the people to build an enterprise economy, and the moment you do that, all history shows, you build a middle class that is used to making their own decisions, building up their own businesses, being more interested in education, meeting more people from the rest of the world, traveling, wanting their children to have a better life in the future. And the history of the world will show you many examples that an enterprise economy is followed by democracy. But it's interesting that the two previous communist blocs have taken different routes because of their different histories. I believe that both of them will finish up by being democracies, thus following the course of action which Japan set, in the Pacific, of a very enterprising economy and now an established democracy.

So it has been an exciting half-century in politics. Very exciting indeed, and democracy is spreading its tentacles ever further into countries who have not known it. And that will be good because there is no case in history of an established democracy fighting an established democracy.

One final word of warning: the Cold War may be over (there are still problems in China), but peace has not broken out universally, nor will it. There are still some 40 conflicts the world over. Some have broken out since the end of the cold war. We must never, never, never, my friends, let down our guard. We must always be prepared to defend liberty. It is precious. It is precious for the future. It means relying on the leadership of America, that remarkable country born in liberty and democracy. But we must also, as her allies, play our part, and I'm very glad Japan is now playing a part in peacekeeping in Cambodia. But the final lesson is: no battles are ever finally won; you have to go on winning them by example and by being prepared to defend your way of life against those who would attack it.

There is no better phrase (which is my final phrase), than the old one enunciated in the middle of the eighteenth century: “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance” .

Thank you for the honor you have done me. Thank you for the privilege of addressing you. I shall long remember this day and hope to come back and see you again.