Time To Push For Free Economic Zone In East Asia, Expert Says

By Agence France-Presse It is time for Japan to take the lead in establishing a free trade area in East Asia to survive global competition, the chief of Japan's largest business group said Dec. 18. The Japanese need to "open up their country for a third time," argued Hiroshi Okuda, chairman of the Japan Business Federation of Nippon Keidanren, citing drastic changes the nation underwent in the 19th century after the end of the feudal period and following its 1945 defeat in World War II. By doing so, East Asia could become "an engine for the world economy" on par with the United States and Europe, forming "a stable triangle," said Okuda, who also chairs Japan's top automaker Toyota Motor Corp. The idea that Japan would take a dominant leadership role in East Asia has been considered "a taboo" due to bitter memories of Japan's aggression in the region before and during World War II, Okuda noted. "If we are afraid of that, however, we cannot move ahead," he said, adding that the rest of Asia was calling for more investment from Japan. Last month, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Japan signed a pact to create a free trade area possibly within 10 years, about the same time ASEAN links up with China for the world's largest free market. ASEAN groups include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2002

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