Thinking Big in Japan: A Europe-to-China Super Highway
TOKYO (AP) _ Masaki Nakajima thinks big - like building a superhighway from central Europe to China or turning the Sahara green.
Better to spend huge sums on money on things like that, he says, than pouring it into guns and bombs.
″What we need now is a concrete and widely acceptable alternative to the escalating arms race and arms sales that keeps alive the threat of nuclear destruction,″ Nakajima told a recent luncheon here in his honor.
He is the director of the Mitsubishi Research Institute, a think tank. He also is a moving force behind the Global Infrastructure Fund (GIF), which promotes his ideas.
GIF’s purpose is to get world leaders and large corporations to fund 15 or so megaprojects like the Europe-China highway - a modern version of the ancient Silk Road - with the aim of eradicating world hunger, creating new energy sources and linking nations through prodigious transportation and communication networks.
Other megaprojects include a bridge tunnel across the Strait of Gibraltar, a highway running north and south in Europe and a global network of super seaports.
Another proposal is a tunnel between Japan and Korea under the Sea of Japan. Still another is for a dam on the Sanpo River between China and the Indian province of Assam. The dam would divert the river through a tunnel under the Himalayas to India, making possible a hydroelectric project that could generate 330 billion kilowatt-hours of power a year.
Nakajima, a former Finance Ministry official and international banker, is the first to say megaprojects don’t come cheap. GIF puts the cost of financing the proposed megaprojects at $500 billion, a figure Nakajima says roughly corresponds to total U.S. military expenditures during World War II.
Nakajima says the bulk of GIF’s funding could come from a gradual cutback in the money nations spend on arms, thereby allowing the world economic system to follow a more peaceful and steady course.
A 2 percent to 3 percent reduction in worldwide arms spending, he argues, would more than cover the proposed budget.
Noriyo Yamamoto, a research director at the Mitsubishi Research Institute and GIF’s chairman emeritus, says Japan should take the intitiative in contributing capital for the projects. Nakajima maintains that if Japan did so it would shed its image as an ″economic animal,″ because some of its wealth would be helping others.
The first Global Infrastucture Projects Conference, a gathering of about 60 scientists, businessmen and intellectuals from four continents, was held in Anchorage, Alaska, this past July, and Yamamoto said it catapulted GIF into the global arena.
All participants signed a declaration endorsing Nakajima’s concepts, and some came up with a few ideas of their own.
Harold Heinze, for example, proposed building World Route 1 - a road from Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay to Norway via the North Pole that would shorten trade routes between North America and northern Europe. Heinze is president of Arco Alaska Inc., an oil company.
Masao Kunihiro, a university professor, said Nakajima remained a ″voice in the wilderness″ in Japan from the time he first proposed the fund in 1977 until his ideas started to draw attention in Europe and the United States.
″This has happened time and again in Japan - a Japanese person advocating something falling on deaf ears,″ Kunihiro said. ″But when a proposal like Nakajima’s is heeded to outside Japan, then the Japanese people all of a sudden discover or rediscover it.″
He noted that filmmaker Akira Kurosawa was virtually ignored in Japan until the movie ″Rashoman″ won Hollywood’s Acadamy Award for best foreign film in 1951.
″The days are long gone when Japan can afford a narrow-minded vision,″ Kunihiro added. ″Tere’s a growing feeling on the part of Japanese people that we should do something for the rest of the world, and we have to work out something that doesn’t reek of militarism.″