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Friday, Feb. 10, 2006

WORRIES OVER ASIA, MORALS

Politics loom at Kansai business meet


Staff writer

KYOTO -- The 44th annual Kansai Economic Seminar began in Kyoto Thursday, but in the opening speeches and plenary sessions, social and political concerns instead of economic issues received the lion's share of attention.

News photo
The Annual Kansai Economic Seminar kicks off Thursday at Kyoto International Conference Hall in Sakyo Ward, Kyoto.

Sounding at times like an old-fashioned nationalist, Kansai Economic Federation Chairman Yoshihisa Akiyama began the two-day session with a speech noting that Japan faces problems at home and abroad.

"Our Asian diplomacy is stalled and today's Japanese workers have low morals and lack the 'Yamato spirit,' " Akiyama said, invoking a term used in the prewar years and among many older conservatives today.

At other times, Akiyama sounded more like a speaker at an antiglobalization rally than the leader of the region's most influential business lobby.

"There is a sense in Japan and elsewhere that we are pursuing the wrong global model, one that relies too much on American capitalism," Akiyama said.

"We've learned, for example, that the world doesn't want all aspects of the American lifestyle, like McDonald's," he said.

Invoking Kansai's strong relations with Asia, which accounts for 60 percent of Kansai's international trade, Akiyama called for creation of a new social and economic model that emphasizes peaceful development in Asia, stronger industrial innovation and a rebirth of morals in Japan.

Akiyama was followed by former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, who began by expressing pleasure at the news of Princess Kiko's pregnancy, adding he thought the debate should continue over whether to amend the Imperial succession law to allow a woman to ascend to the throne.

"I believe it will take another two or three years of thoroughly discussing the succession issue," he said.

The first prime minister to visit Yasukuni Shrine in the postwar period warned that Chinese nationalism and anti-Japanese sentiment in East Asia are on the rise, but that economics could help resolve the issues.

"What is needed for better East Asian diplomacy is an expansion of economic cooperation between not only Japan and East Asia but also Japan, the ASEAN nations, and Australia and New Zealand," he said.

The choice of Nakasone as keynote speaker was not without controversy. Many in the Kansai business community were uneasy about inviting him, or opposed outright, saying it sent the wrong message.

"There are two problems with Nakasone. First, his views on Japan's wartime history and Yasukuni are very (contentious) in both Japan and China, and his presence as keynote speaker at the Kansai Economic Seminar could fuel suspicion in China that many in the Kansai business community fully support his views, which is not the case," said one senior Kansai business leader, whose firm has several branch offices in China.

"The second problem is that Nakasone represents the old guard. This seminar is supposed to be about the future, but Nakasone represents the past. It would have been better to get somebody younger," said the business leader, who declined to be identified.

Many of the themes to be taken up by the 546 attendees over two days also focus on political and social issues, ranging from the declining birthrate and rapidly aging society to relations with Asia.

Presentations on macroeconomic issues have dominated past seminars, but are taking a back seat to noneconomic issues this year.



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The Japan Times

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