COURTESY BILL SHARP
Now a museum, Toyama Castle once served as a residence for regional lords during Japan's feudal period. The castle's moat is in the foreground.
Northeast Asia rising
A Honolulu-based forum maps the first steps in a long journey toward economic prosperity for the region
TOYAMA, Japan » Long-held hopes for bringing economic prosperity to parts of Northeast Asia that economic development has not fully embraced were advanced at the 16th meeting of the Honolulu-based Northeast Asia Economic Forum held Oct. 25-26 in Toyama City, Japan.
Following a performance by well-known Japanese violinist Yayoi Toda, opening remarks were delivered to the 200-plus attendees by NEAEF Chairman Lee Jay-Cho, often thought of as the "godfather of NEA economic cooperation"; Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, represented by former Japanese Foreign Minister and current member of the Japanese Diet (parliament) Taro Nakayama; former Hawaii Gov. George R. Ariyoshi; and a host of personages representing the governments and leaders of Japan, South Korea, Russia, China and Mongolia.
COURTESY BILL SHARP
Lee Jay-Cho, chairman of the Honolulu-based Northeast Asia Economic Forum, made the opening remarks at the NEAEF's meeting last month in Toyama City, Japan.
The two-day conference consisted of presentations and panel discussions focused on achieving greater regional cooperation in environmental protection, energy conservation and transportation integration among participating nations.
According to the Hokuriku Declaration unanimously voted on by all attendees at the end of the meeting, participants support "establishing a sustainable economy and society," while sharing a responsibility for controlling environmental degradation migrating across the region from one country to another.
A regional approach is to be pursued "to construct societies of low carbon use, recycling, and living with nature, and in safety and comfort."
As regional economic integration progresses, there must be more public-private cooperation, exchange of environmental information and monitoring and technical cooperation to provide environmental protection, industry and academia partnerships; financial incentives in the form of foreign aid, low-interest loans or grants must be offered; and natural resources must be preserved.
The supply of energy plays a crucial role in the further economic development and continued security of NEA. Demand is likely to expand as all NEA economies continue to grow. Therefore, "it is important to increase energy supply, and it is further important to improve energy efficiency." It was further agreed that "promotion of nuclear energy with special attention to non-proliferation and other alternative energy resources would benefit NEA and the entire world."
To enhance the overall economic development of NEA requires further integration of regional transportation systems and added cooperation. For example, products could be shipped from Western Honshu (Japanese main island) ports to Korea to be loaded onto South Korean freight trains transiting North Korea and bound for the Russian Far East.
Arriving in Russia, those Japanese goods could then be loaded onto the Trans-Siberian Railway for delivery to European markets, resulting in lower shipping costs and quicker delivery than sea transport offers. The same is true for South Korean goods. Mongolia also could benefit by gaining access to the sea.
To realize a more regionally integrated economy requires infrastructure improvements and the seeding of new industries. To promote regional financing, the meeting supported continued efforts to establish a Northeast Asian Development Bank. Prior to the start of the meeting, the NEAEF conducted the Youth Leadership Training and Research Program at the University of Toyama. An impressive group of 32 young leaders from all participating countries plus Taiwan were selected to join the YLP to support research, build personal networks and plant the seed for future regional cooperation.
The 17th meeting will be held in Tianjin, China, a logical choice given the development of its waterfront Tianjin Binhai New Area. The TBNA will be a huge free-trade zone with a high concentration of manufacturing and research capability. It will provide the sort of economic growth to North, Northeast and Northwest China that the Shenzhen and Zhuhai Free Trade Zones have done for South China. With its expanded port facilities to accommodate more trade, it also will offer economic benefit to all of Northeast Asia.
As interesting and productive as the meeting was, there were some obvious "omissions." Owing to difficulties in Japanese-North Korean bilateral relations, no Japanese visas were issued to North Korean representatives. North Korea is generally considered difficult to deal with, yet given its geographical location in the exact center of NEA, it must be involved in all discussion about regional economic cooperation. This is especially important in coordinating rail links.
Save one graduate student from Taiwan studying in the United States, no representatives from Taiwan -- an engine of economic growth with countless lessons in economic development to share -- were present.
The number of NEA organizations promoting regional economic cooperation is growing, yet there is a lack of synergy between them and varying focuses. Thus, the pace and scope of regional cooperation is reduced. In Southeast Asia the Association of Southeast Asian Nations is the central organization successfully promoting regional economic interests. Without a similar organization in NEA, regional economic development will be hindered.
There was an apparent lack of big-business interest in that no global corporation such as Japan's Toshiba, South Korea's Samsung or China's Haier was present. It is difficult to see how governments, think tanks and academia can realize NEA regional economic cooperation without enthusiastic business involvement.
Nevertheless, regional economic cooperation is a long-term process that will one day create both greater mutual economic benefit and greater political cooperation in Northeast Asia.
Bill Sharp teaches domestic and international politics of East Asia at Hawaii Pacific University. He writes a monthly commentary for the Star-Bulletin.