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President Clinton Urges Calm in the Face of Asian Economic Problems as Pacific Rim Leaders

November 24, 1997

President Clinton Urges Calm in the Face of Asian Economic Problems as Pacific Rim Leaders Prepare for Economic SummitBy TERENCE HUNT

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) _ Trying to calm fresh global jitters about economic turmoil in Asia, President Clinton set a reassuring tone Sunday for a summit with Pacific Rim leaders, declaring, ``This is the time for confidence in the future of Asia.″ But worries were spreading as financial calamity claimed a storied Japanese brokerage firm.

Summit leaders were meeting to craft a package of international financial support for nations struggling to support their currencies and their markets. Their scheduled discussions on trade were being overwhelmed with the larger economic worries.

As presidents and prime ministers arrived for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, several thousand demonstrators marched in unity protesting a variety of causes. Street artists, bagpipe players and drummers mingled with the protesters, who hoisted signs reading, ``Workers solidarity has no borders″ and ``Stop China’s genocide in Tibet.″

In two days of talks beginning Monday, the 18-nation Asia-Pacific leaders are to endorse a financial rescue effort led by the International Monetary Fund with additional resources provided by wealthy nations such as the United States and Japan.

``The IMF is a first line of defense; then perhaps we might need a second line of defense,″ Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien said at a news conference after a meeting with the president. ``I think that’s the right approach,″ Clinton said.

Nonetheless, he dismissed Asia’s mounting bank failures, currency devaluations and stock market plunges as ``a few little glitches in the road here,″ adding, ``We’re working through them.″

Clinton’s reassuring words could not erase the fact that Asia’s turmoil has produced doomsday scenarios of a global economic downturn if the situation isn’t stabilized. On the eve of the summit, the crisis claimed its biggest victim as South Korea was forced to ask for a $20 billion-plus bailout.

President Kim Young-sam was upbeat as the APEC meetings approached.

``If we work together, we can do anything,″ Kim told members of Vancouver’s Korean community. He said the success of the IMF’s $50 billion bailout of Mexico in 1995 should inspire all Koreans to work hard to achieve the same result.

At the airport, there was a steady stream of VIP arrivals in the rain. Chinese President Jiang Zemin landed at midday, followed several hours later by Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. Clinton will see them separately on Monday. The meeting with Jiang comes just days after Wei Jingsheng, China’s most prominent democracy advocate, said that only continued pressure from the West could help free more Chinese political prisoners.

Not all leaders were expressing broad confidence. Phillipine President Fidel Ramos told a business group here, ``The turmoil, I will say at once, cannot be waved away by brave talk that it is just a passing difficulty. It is a wake-up call for all our countries. And we must adapt and adjust individually and collectively to the challenge.″

Indeed there were warnings that Asia’s economic storm clouds could darken.

Thailand _ the first country ravaged by the currency crisis that has swept Asia _ cautioned that if the summit’s outcome were ``anything less than large and dramatic,″ there would be a worsening of the economic turmoil. That warning spurred the 18 nations represented here to produce an expanded agreement to tear down tariffs and open trade in nine areas, from environmental products to toys, covering $1.5 trillion of commerce.

In Tokyo, Yamaichi Securities, one of Japan’s largest brokerages, decided to close down because of financial woes from a payoff scandal and a slump in Tokyo stock prices. It was the largest company to collapse in Japan since the end of World War II.

Jiang described China’s economic future in an upbeat dinner speech, saying, ``The situation in China today is excellent.″ He said China has maintained its momentum of rapid economic growth, which is expected to be at about nine percent this year and about eight percent in the remaining years of this century.

Clinton said the IMF deal would not require an enormous investment from any one country. ``Our commitment is limited but significant enough″ to send a reassuring signal in tandem with allies, he said.

Clinton arrived here with a weakened hand, after Congress _ led by his fellow Democrats _ refused to give him expanded trade negotiating authority. The president also was embarrassed by Congress’ rejection of his request for $3.5 billion in additional financing for the IMF.

Pointedly offering a rosy assessment, Clinton said, ``I think this is a time for confidence in the future of Asia and confidence in the future of our relationship with them.″ Indeed there are fears that Asia’s problems will dampen demand for U.S. exports and slow the American economy.

On the summit’s eve, IMF envoys arrived in South Korea to begin their financial rescue mission. South Korean Finance and Economy Minister Lim Chang-yuel said his government will use the IMF’s intervention to overhaul its inefficient economy.

``It’s shameful to try to overcome a foreign currency crisis with the help of the IMF, but it could rather serve as a good opportunity if we use it to strengthen the long-term growth potential of our economy,″ Lim said.

Clinton was upbeat in Vancouver about South Korea, the world’s 11th largest economy. ``Certainly, I don’t see how anyone could be less than hopeful about the long-term prospects for the South Korean economy given their achievements over the last few decades.″

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