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Saturday, March 1, 2003

EU envoy advocates talks on North Korea


Staff writer

OSAKA -- The European Union's ambassador to Japan voiced support Friday for efforts to resolve the standoff over Pyongyang's nuclear arms program via negotiations involving the United States, Japan, China, North Korea and South Korea.

Bernhard Zepter said, however, that the matter is not as pressing for the EU as it is for Northeast Asia.

In a wide-ranging interview with a small group of local journalists here, Zepter spoke on issues ranging from North Korea to the Japanese press club system.

"Although the EU takes the missile threat seriously and is ready to do what it can to end the crisis, North Korea is not the political issue for the European Union at the moment like it is for Asia," Zepter said. "For the EU, other countries with nuclear weapons, like Pakistan, are of much greater concern."

Zepter added, however, that more is needed in the way of multilateral cooperation between the EU and other nations to ensure that sensitive nuclear weapons technology and nuclear materials do not end up being used to develop a clandestine nuclear weapons program.

"The fact that Pakistan was able to surprise the world by building and testing a nuclear device should be a warning about the dangers of nuclear proliferation and the need for better control," he said.

Turning to Japan's economy, Zepter spoke on the demographic changes the nation is undergoing. He focused particularly on the graying of society and changes in the labor force, such as the growing legion of foreign workers.

According to a United Nations report, Japan may have to bring in 3 million foreign workers to maintain its current standard of living.

"The European Union has had a lot of experience in dealing with workers crossing borders, and could possibly serve as a model for Japan as it seeks to deal with an aging population and a smaller workforce," he said.

The aging workforce was one of several economic issues that brought the ambassador to Osaka, where he met Friday morning with the head of the Kansai Economic Federation, Yoshihisa Akiyama, for a discussion on the regional economy and how to attract foreign investment.

One EU suggestion has caused consternation in certain areas of the Japanese media. Shortly after Zepter arrived in Japan last year, the EU called for the abolition of the press club system, charging that the clubs constitute a restraint on free trade.

Since then, Zepter has spoken directly with the Japan Newspaper Publishers Association about the issue.

"In order to attract foreign direct investment, Japan needs to get the word out that it is doing many things right, and that means allowing foreign media access," he said.



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