OSAKA — Southeast Asian business leaders called on Japan to take charge of healing the ailing Asian economy as they closed the 24th ASEAN-Japan Business Meeting here Friday.Tan Sri Dato’ Azman Hashim, chairman of Arab-Malaysian Banking Group, said that ASEAN nations hope Japan will take the lead in overcoming the Asian financial crisis. “We need a stronger Japan buying goods and services from other Asian countries. That will help us a lot,” he said, adding that the $30 billion Asian financial assistance scheme Japan recently announced should be made available as soon as possible.Victor Ng, general manager of institutional sales at J.M. Sassoon & Co. in Singapore, said it is crucial that Japan restore its economic health so other Asian nations can recover. “Japan is essentially the Economic Godfather of Asia,” he said. “If it is sick, the children will not be healthy.”Tsuneo Kunikata, vice-chairman of the Committee on Asia-Japan Relations at the Japan Association of Corporate Executives (Keizai Doyukai), said that the expectations for Japanese support are growing and that it is important for the association to ask the central government to take quick action that could help lead to a recovery in Asia.Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura said Friday that trade liberalization among members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum should be promoted based on the principle of voluntarism. “APEC is not a place for each member to force the other to promote trade liberalization,” Komura said in a speech in Tokyo.He said that trade liberalization of nine specific sectors should not become the main topic at the upcoming annual APEC meetings next month in Kuala Lumpur.A trade liberalization agreement drawn up last year in Vancouver, British Columbia, calls for member economies to cut tariffs and pursue trade liberalization measures in the nine sectors.But Japan is hesitant to cut tariffs on fishery and forestry products because it would erode protection of domestic industries. Despite Japan’s hardline stance, Komura said that “momentum” for trade liberalization should be maintained at APEC.

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