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Cooperation is needed to solve global economic crisis

by Michael Hoffman

Special To The Japan Times

Everybody agrees: We need kōdō (行動, action). What 行動, though? And whose? That’s where the unanimity crumbles.

The Kokusai Tsuka Kikin (国際通貨基金, International Monetary Fund, IMF) and the Sekai Ginko (世界銀行, World Bank) held their nenji sōkai (年次総会, annual general meetings) over three days last month, with Tokyo hosting for the first time since 1964.

IMF sōmu riji (総務理事, managing director) Christine Lagarde, in her bōtō no aisatsu (冒頭の挨拶, opening address), phrased the familiar call to action this way: “Deliberation is not enough; action is vital” (「熟慮するだけではなく行動が重要だ」”Jukuryo suru dake de wa naku kōdō suru koto ga jūyō da“).

Mindful of the Japanese venue, she delved deep into Japanese history for a symbol of the kokusai kyōchō (国際協調, international cooperation) she seeks to mobilize against the world’s multiple and seemingly intractable kiki (危機, crises). She told of two famous 16th-century warlords of the Sengoku Jidai (戦国時代, Warring States Period [1467-1568]). Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin ruled neighboring provinces in central Japan and frequently fought one another. Both were devotees of Zen, which perhaps accounts for the fact that when Shingen’s province suffered a severe salt shortage, Kenshin, disdaining to extend a battlefield rivalry into the commercial sphere, supplied his enemy from his own province.

Lagarde’s implication: if two battle-hardened warriors in a bellicose age can maintain a sense of civilized perspective even in the heat of a struggle to the death for supremacy, why can’t we?

Kotaishi-sama (皇太子様, Crown Prince Naruhito) sounded a similar note, speaking of the danketsu (団結, unifying) effect of the Great East Japan Earthquake and adding, “Sasaeai no seishin wa kokusai shakai ni oitemo jūyō desu (支えあいの精神は国際社会においても重要です, The spirit of mutual support is important in international society too”).

So it is, no doubt, but so is the scramble for national, local and personal advantage. An intense kikikan (危機感, sense of crisis) can bring people and nations together, as it often did during the earthquake and its dreadful aftermath; or, it can impose the law of the jungle. A natural disaster tends to bring out the best in people. A lingering and embittering economic crisis usually does not.

A kyōdō seimei (共同声明, joint communiqué) issued by the IMF’s policy-setting body stated, “Sekai keizai no seichō wa gensoku shite ori, fukakujitsusei to shitabure no risuku ga nokotte iru (世界経済の成長は減速しており、不確実性と下ぶれのリスクが残っている, The growth of the global economy is slowing down and the risk of uncertainty and decline remain”).

Lagarde admitted at the close of the meetings that, “We weren’t able to totally remove the future’s uncertainty, but we did narrow its scope” (「先行きの不確実さは完全には拭い去れないが、その幅を狭めることはできた」 “Sakiyuki no fukakujitsusa wa kanzen ni wa nuguisarenai ga, sono haba wo sebameru koto wa dekita“).

Let the experts assess the truth of that last assertion. At best, uncertainty remains, and though danketsu is all very well, no one wants to be caught giving away too much. The developing nations are especially wary, having seen their interests sacrificed in the past. Brazilian finance minister Guido Mantega told a press conference in Tokyo, “The United States and Japan are both proceeding with quantitative easing. Each country seems to be scrambling to protect its own currency” (「米国も日本も、量的緩和を進めた。世界各国が自国通貨を守ろうと競っているようなものだ」”Beikoku mo nihon mo, ryōteki kanwa wo susumeta. Sekai kakkoku ga jikoku tsūka wo mamorō to kisottei iru yō na mono da“).

Two African finance ministers also spoke of shivering in the shadows cast by the great powers. John Rwangombwa of Rwanda said, “American and European problems haunt Africa” (「米国や欧州の問題はアフリカにも付きまとってくる」 “Beikoku ya Oshu no mondai wa afurika ni mo tsukimatotte kuru”). Kerfalla Yansane of Guinea added, “We want China to return to double-digit growth” (「中国には二桁成長に戻ってもらいたい」”Chugoku ni wa ni-keta seichō ni modotte moraitai”).

Speaking of China, where were its top officials? Their kesseki (欠席, absence), widely assumed to be a by-product of its festering dispute with Japan over the Senkaku Islets, was reportedly criticized even within China, where popular enthusiasm for the ruling Communist Party’s unyielding stance remains high. As one Chinese observer put it to the Asahi Shimbun, “Chugoku wa hatsugen suru kikai wo nogashita (中国は発言する機会を逃した, China missed a chance to get its views across”). A Chinese market analyst quoted by the newspaper added, “Taihen na sonshitsu. Shōgyōteki na mono wo seijika shita (大変な損失。商業的なものを政治化した, It’s a big loss. It’s the politicization of commerce”).

Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin, the 16th-century Japanese warlords, would surely have said the same.