Trilaterals explore Democracies’ woes

The challenges facing industrialized democracies as they enter the 21st century may, at first glance, appear daunting — ranging from economic stagnation to security and global political leadership — but they cannot be allowed to become as insurmountable as they seem, according to panelists at a symposium held to mark the 100th anniversary of The Japan Times.

Held at The Japan Times-Nifco Hall in Tokyo’s Minato Ward, the symposium titled “The Japan Times Centennial Symposium; Challenges for Industrial Democracies in the 21st Century,” brought together the three joint chairmen of the Trilateral Commission: Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Board of Governors of the U.S. Federal Reserve System, Count Otto Lambsdorff, a member of the German Bundestag, and Yotaro Kobayashi, chairman of Fuji Xerox Co. Toyoo Gyohten, senior adviser to Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, served as moderator of the debate, which followed the close of the three-day annual plenary meeting of the Trilateral Commission.

The three panelists agreed broadly on problems that their respective regions — North America, the European Union and Japan — face as the millennium approaches, but each placed differing emphasis on the most serious challenges. In his speech, Volcker said he has been “frustrated” by recent huge swings in exchange rates. “I can hardly think that is a healthy situation,” he said, going on to question the national governments’ monetary policies.

Commenting on dissent from within the European Union over the planned introduction in 1999 of the euro, the common European currency, Volcker said: “I am a believer in the euro. But I am a believer because when you’re on the outside you don’t have to live with some of the consequences.” He added that he was glad to see support for the new currency, but warned that its introduction is not a “done deal.” Although there is every likelihood it will become the cash of Europe, he said, it is likely to be accompanied by some instability, which will affect the U.S. and Japan.

Lambsdorff recognized the advances the U.S. has made in putting its economy back on track, but also warned Washington against isolationism or unilateralism, particularly in world trade matters, before going on to detail some of the major worries facing Europe. Lambsdorff ended his presentation by stating that the three regions covered by the Trilateral Commission have to provide the “leadership and trigger the necessary realization and collective will to act.”

Kobayashi spoke of the desperate need for Japan’s government to implement deregulation as well as administrative and fiscal reform, taking on board the lessons the U.S. learned from deregulation. He also spoke of the problems that are unique to Japan, as a member of the Group of Seven industrialized states, but also as an Asian country that is seen by some as a bridge between Asia and the West. Kobayashi questioned this assumption because Japan is unique, both within Asia as well as on a global scale, and this leaves the question of whether Japan should regard itself foremost as one of the advanced trilateral members or as an Asian economy.