Japan adopts positive attitude towards Apec, supports greater regional trade access : Envoy

THE Japanese Ambassador to Singapore said yesterday that Tokyo had adopted a “positive” attitude during last month’s Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) forum and supported its move towards greater regional trade liberalisation and co-operation.

Mr Tomoyo Kawamura denied suggestions that his country’s response to the strengthening of the forum was lukewarm because of fears that the United States would use it as an instrument to pressure Japan to open up its markets.

He said that it was, however, important to recognise the “diversity and divergence” of the 17-member grouping.

“The seeming hesitation…stems from our recognition that there are differences in approaches among member countries as to how fast Apec should proceed with economic co-operation,” he said, adding that many of the countries in the grouping were at different stages of economic development.

Apec’s members are the six Asean states, Japan, the US, Canada, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Hongkong, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and Papua New Guinea.

Mr Kawamura made the comments during a question-and-answer session at an Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) public lecture on US-Japan Relations Under Clinton And Hosokawa: Change And Continuity.

His remarks followed an observation by Mr Stephen Bosworth, president of the US-Japan Foundation, that Japan’s enthusiasm for Apec was “constrained”.

IPS director Professor Tommy Koh also noted that Japan’s lack of interest was rather surprising given that 30 years ago,its leaders first conceived the idea of building a Pacific Economic Community.

“Apec could be a building block towards the Japanese dream,” he said.

Mr Kishore Mahbubani, permanent secretary in Singapore’s Foreign Ministry, suggested that Japan had to open up its markets for economic and strategic reasons.

He said that America opened up its markets in the 50s because it needed a strong ally in Japan. Japan needed to do likewise today because of uncertainties in relations with China and North Korea.

Earlier, Mr Bosworth told the 200 businessmen, diplomats and journalists attending his talk that a broad American interest in Asia required that it maintained a closer relationship with Japan, the region’s central actor.

The US could not separate its policy towards Japan and its overall interests in Asia, he said.

He also said that while the US supported the creation of multilateral structures in the region such as Apec and the Asean Regional Forum, these groupings could in the long run constrain America’s bilateral flexibility. “Our ability to continue to harass Japan … and China about our bilateral problems will ultimately be constrained by these multilateral structures.”

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