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Japan Actions on Asian Crisis Eyed

April 25, 1998

TOKYO (AP) _ Cowering giant or humble benefactor?

When delegates from the 57-member Asian Development Bank meet later this week in Geneva to discuss Asia’s economic crisis, Japan will _ to a large extent _ be running the show.

But even though Tokyo has poured billions of dollars into efforts to keep the region financially afloat, it isn’t likely to be in for a lot of praise.

As Asia’s leading industrialized nation and the world’s second-largest economy, Japan has been slammed repeatedly recently for what many see as its failure to live up to international responsibilities.

``Japan needs to play a more aggressive role to aid regional growth,″ said Ahn Choongyong, dean of Chung-Ang University’s graduate school of international studies in Seoul.

Ahn said Japan has also been too reluctant to buy more goods from Asian nations and to recycle its huge trade surplus by granting more aid to its neighbors.

Such calls for Japan to assume greater responsibility will likely be a recurring theme at this week’s three-day annual Asian Development Bank board of directors meeting, which gets under way on Wednesday. Many finance ministers and central bank heads are expected to attend.

The meeting would seem the perfect forum for Japan to score some much needed publicity points.

``It’s the international organization in which we tend to play the biggest role,″ said Yasuhiko Wake, of the Japanese Finance Ministry.

There is no doubting that claim.

Since the bank’s inaugural annual meeting in Tokyo in 1966, Japan has put up almost half of the money used by the key development loan fund at the bank. The next biggest donor, the United States, has provided less than a third of that amount.

All of the bank’s presidents, including current ADB chief Mitsuo Sato, have been former Japanese Finance Ministry officials.

Japan has been instrumental in pushing for quick action through the Asian Development Bank, which has provided $1.2 billion to Thailand and $3.5 billion to Indonesia.

In December, the Manila-based bank earmarked $4 billion for South Korea _ its largest loan ever.

``Japan regards itself as a kind of big brother, so we feel a responsibility to the region,″ said Megumi Araki, a liaison officer at the bank’s Tokyo branch office.

Japan has been busy with problems of its own _ a flaccid economy and shaky financial system, noted Jesus Estanislao, head of the Asian Development Bank Institute, a think tank set up with funds from the Japanese government.

In addition, some of Japan’s efforts to address the wider Asian crisis have been overlooked, Estanislao said.

``A lot of people don’t know what Japan is doing precisely because they’ve been doing it the Asian way by not advertising it,″ he said.

Even so, the Japanese Foreign Ministry has made no secret of the fact that Japan has pledged $37 billion in aid _ the largest single contribution to the recent bailouts of the most troubled Asian nations.

While acknowledging that Japan needs to stimulate its economy in order to buy more goods produced elsewhere in Asia, government officials curtly dismiss complaints that Japan has been negligent toward its neighbors.

``We are doing our best,″ said Foreign Ministry official Yutaka Kikuta. As top aid donor to the region, he said ``We are not in a position to be criticized by other countries.″

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