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Saturday, Feb. 11, 2006

NATION'S DARK FUTURE ADDRESSED

Kansai business leaders get political


Staff writer

KYOTO -- A key annual gathering of senior business leaders in the Kansai region ended Friday with calls to improve relations with China and South Korea and to create an East Asian economic bloc.

Participants also said Japanese education should be reformed to better instill respect for the country's culture and traditions in young people.

Traditionally, the Kansai Economic Summit has avoided political issues. But this year participants chose to take the advice of the ancient Greek statesman Pericles, who said that the man who claimed politics was not his business had no business.

"With no visible positive developments in Japan's international relations, with the twin problems of a declining birthrate and an aging society advancing more rapidly than predicted, and with corporate scandals and social problems causing public unease, the country is losing its sense of ethics," reads a declaration released at the end of the event. "Thus, this seminar decided to focus on how to respond to Japan's basic problems."

Of key concern was Japan's relations with China and, to a lesser extent, South Korea, two countries where Kansai firms have huge investments.

One solution to the political problems, related to Japan's harsh occupation of its neighbors, the summit concluded, was strengthening economic relations under a formal Economic Partnership Agreement with the two nations.

"With a high-quality economic partnership agreement, and with strategic promotion and effective development of Japan's ODA (official development assistance) budget toward an East Asia Free Zone, Asia will develop. Japan can take the lead in developing Asia," the paper says.

The summit also addressed two social issues -- educational standards, and the shrinking population.

On education, participants urged laws be rewritten to stress family and community values, and respect for Japanese culture and traditions.

To deal with the coming labor shortage, firms were urged to hire more women and senior citizens. There was no mention of bringing in skilled and unskilled immigrants.

Several participants, including former Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura who spoke Friday afternoon, talked about allowing skilled foreign workers into such professions as nursing.

But organizers said that, unlike the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren), which drew up a detailed proposal in April 2004 on how Japan might accept foreign workers, strong division within the Kansai business community over the issue kept it off the agenda.



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