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Boao Economic Forum Opens, Leaders Issue Calls for More Regional Cooperation

Japan's prime minister said he will press for free trade pacts with more nations, while his Chinese counterpart calls for greater economic cooperation across Asia. The comments came at the opening of an Asian economic meeting Friday in China.

In his speech to the Boao Forum, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi vowed to promote free trade agreements in Asia, in spite of expected political opposition at home.

Mr. Koizumi emphasized his commitment to painful economic reforms, which he hopes will help pull Japan's economy out of a 10-year slump.

Japan still accounts for about 60 percent of Asia's gross domestic product, but China's roaring growth is closing the gap between the two nations. That prompts some in Japan to see China as an economic threat.

But Mr. Koizumi said China is an opportunity, not a problem, particularly if Asian nations, including Japan and China, press for greater economic cooperation.

Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji also stressed the need for Asian countries to cooperate to ensure the region's economic prosperity.

Mr. Zhu said economic development is the primary task of Asian countries. He said the priorities include trade, communications, agriculture, information and energy.

China is holding the Boao forum on the southern island of Hainan. Two thousand government officials, business leaders, and scholars from Asian nations have gathered to discuss the region's challenges.

The meeting concludes Saturday with discussions of banking reforms and other economic issues. Economists blame the burden of bad loans for blocking economic growth in Japan and threatening China's economic growth.