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Messages from "Economic Trend", February 2008

Reviving Bo Hai: A Project for Trilateral Cooperation

Motoyuki OKA
Vice Chairman of the Board of Councillors, Nippon Keidanren
Chairman, Sumitomo Corporation

On recent visits to China, I have been struck by the general rise of interest in the environmental issues. Last year I had the opportunity to talk with local government officials, business executives, and academics in Beijing and Tianjin, and at these meetings as well, the environment was always the main topic. President Hu Jintao has called for a "scientific view of development" -- moving away from the earlier approach of placing utmost importance on economic growth and working to conserve resources, protect the environment, and rectify gaps in wealth and regional disparities so as to build a harmonious society -- and I was able to sense for myself that this thinking has quickly begun to spread.

I frequently visit Tianjin, where I am serving as an economic advisor to the municipal government. One of the city's headaches is the pollution of Bo Hai, the sea on which it is located. This is China's only inland sea, lying off the Yellow Sea behind the Liaodong and Shandong Peninsulas. It was formerly a treasure trove of fish, also called a "marine park," with a wealth of harvestable seafood, including prawns, clams, flounder, bass, and squid, but now these species have vanished. Bo Hai is large, with an area of approximately 78,000 square kilometers (roughly double the land area of Kyushu, one of Japan's main islands), and the spread of pollution here may also affect the adjoining waters of the region, making this a matter of direct concern for Japan and Korea as well.

In October last year we held a business roundtable at Keidanren Kaikan in Tokyo, bringing together business leaders from China, Japan, and the Republic of Korea for serious discussions about the issues of the environment and energy saving. The governments of the three countries have also agreed to hold regular trilateral summit meetings (apart from their "ASEAN+3" meetings with the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and move ahead further with three-way cooperation on their shared environmental issues. Now that interest in the environment has emerged even more strongly than before as a common concern for the three countries, I would like to suggest that we consider cooperating to clean up Bo Hai. Japan's role would involve tapping its earlier experiences in reviving its own heavily polluted bodies of water, notably Tokyo Bay and Minamata Bay.

Reviving Bo Hai will obviously be no easy undertaking, but that makes it all the more appropriate to think of tackling this job as a strategic project symbolic of the dawn of a new framework of trilateral cooperation. It is my hope that joint efforts by China, Japan, and the ROK will lead to the day when Bo Hai is once again a treasure trove of fish.

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