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Forum discusses sustainable growth for Okinawa

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-04-02

The Okinawa Prefectural Government held an international forum last Wednesday, March 24, at the Kariyushi Urban Resort in Naha. The theme, "In Search of Sustainable Growth: (Thinking about the Issues of Asia from Okinawa)," focused around the hopes of constructing a new "North South Center" for intellectual exchange and research concerning economic and environmental issues facing the Asia Pacific Rim. The conference, which was organized by the Nomura Research Institute Ltd. and supported by the Japan Foundation, was divided into three sessions with several panelists offering insights into the delicate balance between economic development and preserving nature. Vice Governor Hirotaka Makino opened the symposium with a short speech, stressing cooperation and networking between Okinawa and its neighbors. Kiyohiko Fukushima, Chief Economist for the Nomura Research Institute Ltd., lead the panelists in an earnest discussion about several issues concerning Okinawa's role in the Asia Pacific Region. "Populations will expand in China, Africa, and India, causing an expansion for the need for fuel, which will put a great amount of stress on the environment," stated Fukushima in his opening remarks. "We need to have new values and new ways of thinking to co-exist with each other."

During the discussion about Okinawa's role in the Asia Pacific Region many panelists agreed that the island must better utilize its natural resources. Yoshihiro Kohda of the International Society for Mangrove Ecosystems gave examples of sustainable ways mangrove forests can produce revenue, including using the bark to make dye for clothing. His organization is hoping such methods can successfully be implemented in developing countries as alternatives to shrimp farming and charcoal production - two major causes for the destruction of much of the world's mangrove trees in recent decades. The forests of northern Okinawa, known locally as "yambaru", were also mentioned as an area with much economic potential. Some scientists wish to promote the use of plants for medicinal purposes, and environmentalists are hoping to create a national park for eco-tourism. Both ideas would help to ensure the preservation of the "yambaru" area, while bringing needed jobs into the prefecture. Okinawa could help to provide technology to other countries by developing such industries within their own borders. The issue of economic disparity between the "North" and "South" was discussed at length by Francis J. McNeil, a former U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica. He is currently an adjunct researcher at the University of Miami's Dante B. Fascell North-South Center. McNeil feels that the amount of developing nations in Asia facing the problem of growth coupled with the destruction of tropical forests and coral reefs, makes Okinawa a good location for a North-South Center. "Sustainable development will be at or near the top of the agenda for the 21st century," said McNeil. "You are splendidly placed to bring together people from the region, particularly from South East Asia, the coastal regions of China and nearby Taiwan. Your work on marine life is another core strength for Okinawa, which can give your Center instant credibility for a broader program of research and interchange about sustainable development." He also mentioned that the Dante B. Fascell North-South Center would be glad to provide assistance to Okinawa in planning the new center and hopes for cooperation between Okinawa and Miami. Zenichi Ito, an Economist and former Professor at Tokyo Woman's Christian University, emphasized the importance of learning from past mistakes. Speaking about the development of Japan's economy, he confessed, "We did not give consideration to the negative costs of development. We must reflect upon our past and conduct an investigation concerning this matter." Ito also feels that Okinawa can benefit from a North-South Center, but mentioned that it should study the policies of other countries such as Germany, who have been successful in balancing economic development and nature conservation. "You (Okinawa) have this very bad habit of thinking that just because the facility has been completed everything is fine, but research is an endless pursuit," advised Ito. Most government officials realize that the rapid development of Okinawa's infrastructure and economy during the postwar era has devastated much of the island's environment. As the Prefecture heads into the new millennium with an increase in globalization and interdependence among the international community, many politicians and economists are calling for sustainable growth, and placing environmental conservation high on their agenda. Whether or not the Prefecture can transform dialogue into action waits to be seen.

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