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When Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama likened the Democrat Party of Japan’s takeover to the Meiji Restoration in last week’s policy speech, he failed to mention an issue that fueled discontent with the Tokugawa Shogunate as it ended in 1867 — corruption. Though corruption did not get a specific mention amid the historical allusions and hopeful rhetoric of the prime minister’s speech, it is a grave problem that, if left unsolved, will continue to hamper development and shackle people’s lives throughout Asia.

The United Nations Development Program’s annual report on corruption identifies the problem as widespread and devastating. Japan may imagine itself as a developed country no longer suffering from the petty bribery that troubles the rest of Asia, but Japan still has many gray areas with questionable business-as-usual practices. The collusive relationship between government ministries and the private sector has resulted in amakudari, the hiring of retired bureaucrats by companies and other organizations that they used to oversee. Similar complex social relationships are entrenched in all Asian countries. The common acquiescence to them can lead to exploitation.

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