Seventh in a series

Staff writer

Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto lacks leadership both domestically and internationally and if he wants to rectify this situation, he must gain the respect of other Asian nations, a Tokyo-based Indonesian journalist said.

If Japan could gain the respect of other parts of Asia, it will also help the country resolve its internal political and economic problems, said Richard Susilo, Tokyo bureau chief of the Indonesian economic newspaper Busnis Indonesia. “This is the best time for Japan to act as an Asian country to help other Asian countries,” Susilo told The Japan Times, criticizing Tokyo for always waiting for a green light from the United States to decide its policies.

Japan should open its market to more Asian goods. Then, the prices of commodities here will go down and consumer demand will increase, eventually stimulating an economic recovery, Susilo said.

According to the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, imports from member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations accounted for only about 15 percent of Japan’s total imported goods in 1996, while goods from the U.S. accounted for 23 percent and those from China amounted to 11.6 percent.

Susilo also believes Japan should provide more bilateral assistance rather than providing funds through international organization channels, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. “Japanese officials say they already gave money through the IMF and World Bank, but it indirectly indicates that Japan wants to follow the direction of the U.S.,” he said.

Other parts of Asia believe bilateral discussions and negotiations would be much easier because multinational negotiations include too many countries and too many interests, he said.

Hashimoto’s lack of leadership in solving the mounting domestic problems such as the huge debts held by the public and private sectors, has led the people to distance themselves from their own government, Susilo said.

Unlike Indonesia, where over 90 percent of the eligible voters go to the polls, the Japanese seem quite apathetic to elections, he said, predicting voter turnout for the Upper House election in July will be around 40 percent.

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