Public incentives urged to help Kansai economy

by Eric Johnston

KYOTO — Kansai region business leaders on Thursday called for increased local government involvement in business promotion, strengthened relations with Asia and better understanding of the security arrangement with the U.S. during their annual seminar here.

The two-day 39th annual Kansai Economic Seminar, jointly sponsored by the Kansai Productivity Center and the Kansai Association of Corporate Executives, began with a call for the around 300 participants to begin a new debate on Japan’s economy.

The call came from Yoshihisa Akiyama, Kansai Economic Federation chairman, and echoed the philosophy espoused by British Prime Minister Tony Blair in his “Third Way” principle.

“Japan is now arguing over whether to pursue economic revitalization or fiscal rehabilitation,” Akiyama said. “However, a third discussion is needed, one that focuses on a new industrialism that combines private initiatives with public spirit.”

To achieve these goals, many in the Kansai business community want the corporate-led Kansai Partnership implemented. Akiyama supported the idea, saying it would let local governments cooperate in offering incentives to new enterprises in the region.

Another topic discussed was Kansai’s relationship with Asia. Nearly half of Kansai exports go to East and Southeast Asia and the Kansai region has long positioned itself as a gateway to Asia.

Taichi Sakaiya, former Economic Planning Agency chief, offered three suggestions to improve Asian ties:

* Create an Asian Cultural Information Center. * Establish a foreign press club for Asian journalists. * Promote social services to make it easier for foreigners to work in the region.

“Japan has almost no information on Asia, especially about Asian artists,” Sakaiya said.

Akiyama also suggested strengthening ties with Asia by creating a forum to bring corporate gurus, economists and others from Asia in contact with Kansai leaders to discuss issues of mutual concern.

With U.S. President George W. Bush expected to push enhanced security ties with Japan, the seminar also included an afternoon discussion on what Japan should do under the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.

Tatsuo Sueyoshi, a corporate adviser to Daikon Corp., said now is the time to discuss the treaty, both at the political level and among nonprofit organizations.

He supported revising the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution and expanding the role of the Self-Defense Forces, but also said a three-way dialogue between the U.S., Japanese and Okinawan governments should be initiated to deal with issues relating to the U.S. military presence there.