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Monday, Feb. 12, 2007

Still the clean-growth model


In terms of economic development, Japan, South Korea and China have achieved in two or three decades what it took Western countries more than a century to accomplish.

Generally speaking, fast economic expansion creates a plethora of problems, including income gaps between individuals and between regions, disparities in income and infrastructure between urban and rural areas, environmental disruption, and unemployment.

Until the 1990s, Japan was a rare model that achieved rapid expansion while minimizing disharmony and disequilibrium. Balanced development of national land was the basis of national policy, and plans to expand railway, telephone, power supply and highway networks nationwide were taken for granted.

Half the cost of compulsory education was paid from state coffers and every effort was made to prevent the development of regional gaps in compulsory education. The Japanese employment system based on seniority and lifelong employment helped minimize salary gaps within companies and government offices.

In the late 1960s, Japan started addressing problems of industrial and urban pollution and eventually succeeded in alleviating air and water pollution problems. Japan should be proud of this. Resources-poor Japan also has always stayed far ahead of Western countries in developing fuel-efficient automobiles and energy-saving home appliances.

Japanese technology should play an extremely great role in global efforts to deal with environmental problems, especially global warming. Fortunately, the Kyoto Protocol includes the Clean Development Mechanism.

The CDM works this way: Suppose Japan invests in a Chinese wind-power project. If it is recognized that annual output from the station will replace annual output from a comparable coal-burning power station, the amount of carbon-dioxide reduction will be determined. As a reward for its investment, Japan can count the amount as credit toward meeting its own CO2 reduction target.

To qualify for a CDM project, Japan must first obtain agreement on the venture from a developing country. Next, a United Nations-designated "operational entity," a private-sector body, estimates the amount of emissions that will effectively be reduced by the project. On the basis of that data, the U.N. CDM Executive Board then decides whether to approve the project as a CDM activity.

Japan should make full use of its advanced energy conservation technologies to help countries develop economically while stabilizing or minimizing their CO2emissions.

Japan, once described as the "most successful socialist country" by then Soviet Communist Party leader Mikhail Gorbachev, is a society that values equality and equilibrium. The nation emphasizes mutual aid and has no salient poverty or starvation problems. Japan is a typical harmony-based society.

Nevertheless, under the rule of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's administration, which lasted from April 2001 to September 2006, Japan's economic policy shifted to one characterized by market fundamentalism, causing disharmony and disequilibrium in all sectors of society. Thus the expression "society of disparities" came into vogue.

Still, Japan has fewer problems of economic disparity than do the United States and China. It is also actively pushing efforts for global environmental protection. Although it once leaned toward a "throwaway culture," Japan is now rebuilding a society based on "three R's" -- reduce, reuse and recycle.

The Chinese government, at a meeting of the National People's Congress last March, announced a plan to build a harmony-based society and eliminate disharmony between coastal and inland regions, between manufacturing industry and agriculture, between urban and rural communities, between nature and man, and between China and the world -- especially the rest of Asia.

So far, Japan has been a model of economic growth for developing Asian countries. In the coming years, it should be a model of the harmony-based society.

Takamitsu Sawa is a professor at Ritsumeikan University's Graduate School of Policy Science and a specially appointed professor at Kyoto University.


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