Speech by Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto of Japan at the Opening Ceremony of the Second Asia-Europe Meeting

3 April 1998

Prime Minister Tony Blair, Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished Delegates,

It is my great honor to have the opportunity to stand alongside Prime Minister Tony Blair, Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai of the Kingdom of Thailand and President Jacques Santer of the European Commission to offer a few words as a coordinator of the Asian side on the occasion of the opening ceremony for the Second Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM II).

It is my impression that this year's meeting is taking place at a different historical moment than the First Asia-Europe Meeting held in Bangkok two years ago, which was significant in the mere fact of Asian and European leaders gathering around a table for the first time.

First of all, the biggest difference is that Asia, which had achieved steady economic growth, is now facing both economic and financial difficulties, as evidenced by the major depreciation in its currencies. Furthermore, various concerns from abroad have been voiced regarding the state of the Japanese economy as well.

As a participant from Asia at this meeting, I would like to clearly state the following facts.

First of all, the fundamental strength of the Asian economy runs deep, the current difficulties will be overcome in the not-too-distant future and Asia will most certainly return to a path of growth. The worst has come and gone and we are now seeing new steps forward.

Secondly, and with this objective in mind, Japan will take the necessary economic measures and at the same time, provide assistance to the countries of Asia as well.

Still, although I speak of Asia, I know that the countries of Asia are at various phrases of development in their history, tradition, culture and in their economies. The sources as well as the impacts of the recent currency and financial crises and economic difficulties differ among countries. Indeed, some of the countries of Asia experienced an excessive inward flow of capital, and in retrospect, as a result of excessive appreciation in their currencies, have experienced a correction resulting in the sudden depreciation which has occurred since last year and increased difficulties in procuring capital. However, I also know, as a representative of the country whose government has cooperated with and whose private businesses have participated in the economic growth of our Asian neighbors for many years, that the "Asian Miracle" was the fruit of the wisdom and commitment on the part of the peoples of each country. As long as Asia maintains its rich intellectual and human resources, the current trails which it is facing will serve as a launch pad to carry it forward to the next stage.

For many years Japan has provided yen loans and its businesses have transferred technology as it has cooperated with Asia and developed together with this region. Furthermore, Japan has cooperated with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the countries of the world and had positively provided assistance to Thailand, the Republic of Korea and the Republic of Indonesia. Although there are other forms of assistance besides the provision of capital, I am sure that you all know that Japan has been the top provider of capital assistance for this region. In this connection, I am delighted to have been informed last evening by President Suharto over the phone that the negotiations with the IMF were at the final stage.

As the global economy is rapidly becoming increasingly integrated, the more there is assistance and cooperation from the international community, beginning with Europe, the faster will be the recovery in Asia. In that way, there is absolutely no doubt that Asia will again become one of the pillars supporting the growth of the global economy.

Turning our eyes to Europe, this region has also responded to the demands of the times by taking a monumental first step toward a new integration. Asia, which has learned much from Europe and has observed the historical role played by Europe in the world, has to feel moved by European efforts to promote Integration, embodied in the adoption of the single currency, and in the way that, as in Asia, the rich history, tradition and uniqueness of each country are not hampering their developments, but are rather the source of their momentum. The euro goes beyond solving the simple problem of increasing the efficiency of the European economy, its impact as a potential new key currency will extend to the world at large. Asian countries, which since last year have experienced economic crisis triggered by currency crisis, are paying close attention to these developments as moves which have deep implications for Asia.

Asia and Europe, in the midst of a rapidly globalizing economy, are approaching an era of grate change. Though the system we know as the world economy, geographic locations is becoming irrelevant and we are experiencing closer international ties than before. In this light, by discussing, deepening mutual understanding are worked to develop a greater common awareness of the current situation over the next two days, the leaders of both regions will be able to open up a brighter outlook on the future of our two regions.

The 21st century is just around the corner, Asia and Europe, which have experienced independently of each other the turning of a century ten, twenty or more times, are now poised to greet a new century, this time hand-in-hand. I am confident that at this Second ASEM leaders meeting in London we will be a great stepping stone and a significant milestone as we are together crossing the historic threshold.

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