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In the past few decades, Asian countries have established strong economic ties among themselves, but when it comes to culture, do Asians really understand each other?

Experts from nine ASEAN countries and Japan met in Tokyo this week to discuss measures that would strengthen cultural relationships in Asia.

In a news conference Friday, the ASEAN-Japan Multinational Cultural Mission unveiled its Action Agenda — recommendations for the 10 countries that the mission adopted to conclude the four-day meeting.

To further cultural dialogues on a “people-to-people” basis, the mission proposed that “nonelitist-based” exchange programs be established for such local participants as farmers and traditional artists, and that cultural tourism programs be promoted.

It also cited the importance of developing traditional skills and heritage planning. “Japan’s relations with other countries are based on economics and we have had few cultural exchanges,” said Dr. Tamotsu Aoki, a Japanese delegate and Tokyo University professor. “If our economy weakens, our entire relations with foreign countries would die down.”

The mission was conceived by Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto in January 1997 during his visit to Singapore. Its 20 representatives — one each from the public and private sectors of each country — met for the first time in Singapore in November before being divided into three groups for ASEAN tours in February.

Cultural swaps might be active on a private- or nongovernmental level. But now this multinational meeting theoretically gets all the participating countries’ governments involved.

The gathering was initiated by Japan’s top leader. “We don’t want our mission to end as just an international cultural chatting body,” said Tokyo University’s Sato, insisting that Hashimoto be responsible for implementing recommendations and, if necessary, creating a special budget.

Honrado Fernandez, a delegate and architect from the Philippines, said, “We all were waiting for this kind of opportunity to exchange and strengthen our Asian cultural values. Mr. Hashimoto has finally taken leadership.”

But so far, there are only recommendations, and how they will be implemented in each country remains unclear. The mission says it will get together again within a year to see how the recommendations have worked out.

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