MANILA, JUNE 25, 2007 (STAR) By Des Ferriols - Japan should play a leading role in promoting the integration and security of East Asia, President Arroyo said here yesterday.

In opening remarks to the World Economic Forum on East Asia, Mrs. Arroyo said the leadership obligations of China and India were also increasing as their political and economic clout grew.

“As the region’s largest source of official development assistance, Japan will provide leadership to the important arena of sustainable development,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

The President said Japan should play a leading role in contributing to integration in the region, and maintaining and pursuing international peace and security in the East Asia community.

Japan, China and India are active in the East Asia Summit, which promotes community building and a political, economic and security dialogue between ASEAN and its regional partners.

“As China and India become true political and economic giants, their leadership obligations to their neighbors also increase, separate from their obligations to their own citizens,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

Mrs. Arroyo pointed out the region has seen increasing integration and prosperity in recent years and this would impact on how the region intended to contemplate the next few decades.

However, this integration and growth was accompanied by the likelihood of greater income disparity, she said.

“We see a more peaceful world and yet more countries with nuclear capability,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

“We see cleaner environment yet in achieving that, we must first address the challenge of global warming.”

Mrs. Arroyo said balancing these contradictions was a test of leadership in the region at a time of rapid economic rise when the global order is going through “enormous swings.”

“One swing was caused by the rise of China and India to add to the power of Japan in the region,” she said. “Another was the global war on terrorism which has influenced America’s role in the world and in Asia.”

Mrs. Arroyo said the US has been preoccupied in the Middle East, leaving a widely-perceived leadership vacuum in the Asian region.

“It has left the impression that there is a political opening for others such as China and Japan to fill,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

China and Japan have “stepped up their game,” notably over the crisis on the Korean peninsula, she said. China and Japan are among six nations which have held talks aimed at resolving a standoff over North Korea’s nuclear program.

Mrs. Arroyo said the real issue is how the region would handle itself in the next 20 to 40 years.

“I am bullish on Asia,” Mrs. Arroyo said, “on what we have accomplished and what we will achieve in the next 20 years. Our time has come.”

Mrs. Arroyo also mentioned the unpopular tax reform packages passed by lawmakers led by Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. which resulted in lifting the Philippine economy.

At a dinner on the eve of the two-day World Economic Forum in Singapore, Mrs. Arroyo told her counterparts of the effort of lawmakers to enact reform legislation that included the Expanded Value Added Tax (EVAT) which enabled the Philippines to start rebuilding its human and physical infrastructure to make it a global and regional competitor.

She said the government is now investing in basic education, public health care and mass housing to enhance its human infrastructure and is building a network of roads, bridges, airports, seaports, and irrigation badly needed by surging foreign investments and global tourism.

At the same time, Mrs. Arroyo applauded the proposal for an anti-terrorism coalition that De Venecia had submitted before the Cabinet immediately after the 9/11 terror attacks in the United States.

She said the anti-terror coalition eventually became a Philippine initiative that brought together Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines in a common fight against global and regional terrorism.

The coalition was later expanded to include Thailand, Cambodia and Australia.

Mrs. Arroyo said it was De Venecia’s proposal to formally link the ASEAN’s anti-terror coalition with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization or the Shanghai Six, composed of China and Russia and the four Central Asian Republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. - With AP

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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