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Japan has a lot of experience to share

July 17, 2006

TARO ASO
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Japan

After my recent talks with the foreign ministers of China and South Korea, in Doha, Qatar, I have a feeling that a trend toward better bilateral relations is now emerging. It is vital to mend Japan's strained ties with China and South Korea.

I think people in Asia are basically optimistic by nature. Thirty years ago, Asia was synonymous with poverty. The region, however, has made enormous economic progress in the past three decades. For instance, a once poor country with 1.3 billion people has become able to support itself. That is a really amazing political and economic achievement. It is an outstanding episode in human history.

Now, Asia is becoming increasingly known as the world's most vibrant network of trade. The per-capita gross domestic product of the major ASEAN members has become three to six times larger than it was 30 years ago.

People in Asia have also achieved a spiritual revolution. A number of Asian stars, loved by Asian people, have been born, and fashions have been created.

Japan's economic success was driven by Japanese people's diligence, passion for learning and sense of public morality.

Japan is still a relatively safe country where vending machines can be placed outdoors and women can walk alone in amusement areas at night. This high level of public safety is supported by Japanese people's sense of public morality.

Japanese people's willingness to work hard has had a great impact on the rest of Asia. At factories in various parts of Asia, there are many Japanese dressed and working in the same way as local workers. Japanese in other Asian countries have demonstrated to local people how they live by the sweat of their brow.

I find it hard to find reasons to become pessimistic about the course of Asia in the next three decades. Thanks to the recent wave of innovations in information technology, Japanese companies that have expanded into other parts of Asia, especially small and medium-size players, have built up a huge network of communications among them at a heady pace. As long as Asia remains an open and free network, it will keep growing exponentially.

I have presented my optimistic view about the future of Asia, but that is not to say that there are no serious challenges confronting the region. South Korea, Japan and China all share the problem of aging populations with falling birthrates.

Despite a rising ratio of elderly people in its population, Japanese society still maintains some vigor, and there are expectations that it will create an aged but lively society. Asia, including Japan, has a rich accumulation of know-how, knowledge and experience for building peace.

Indeed, Asia faces a wide range of intractable problems, including pollution, income disparity, a shortage of water resources and economic gaps among regions.

Japan's experience in tackling these problems three or four decades ago can be shared with other Asian nations through the network. It is now possible for Asia as a whole to share a common dream.

If the "network of intelligence" develops further in Asia, it will undoubtedly revitalize the whole region. I'm convinced that the long-term and overall prospect of Asia's future is definitely bright.

Titles of speakers, names of companies, etc., were correct as of the time when the forum was held.