ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Faced with a $50-billion trade surplus and a growing desire to establish itself as a true world power, Japan is moving toward creating a "global Marshall Plan" that would provide significant funds for some of the most ambitious technological projects in history, according to scientists and Japanese economists at an international conference that ended here Friday.
"The Japanese government could take the initiative of contributing one-tenth of 1% of her gross national product to set up an international fund, while simultaneously inviting other industrial countries to join the fund by making similar contributions," Saburo Okita, Japan's foreign minister until last January, told the first Global Infrastructure Projects Conference.
Several economists at the meeting said that would amount to several billion dollars in a few years' time. Okita, in a formal presentation, also indicated that Japan's contribution eventually could run into the billions of dollars.
'Take the Initiative'
"Japan must now take the initiative in global affairs," he added in an interview.
The path that course would most likely follow would be to provide seed funding for massive projects that would have worldwide impact but are too costly to be undertaken by a single nation, such as massive water projects to "green" the world's deserts, according to Okita and most of about 60 other conference participants.
Although there was no direct indication that Okita was speaking for the Japanese government, several participants said they believe that his proposal has substantial backing.
"It could happen," said Nario Yamamoto, an economist who heads the Mitsubishi Research Institute, a large Japanese think-tank.
Okita also left little doubt that the idea is acceptable to the government. "It is going to happen," he said flatly.
Okita is president of the International University of Japan and chairman of Japan's Institute for Domestic and International Policy Studies. Although he left his foreign ministry post last January, Okita is believed to be a confidant of Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone and he serves on several key economic commissions.
In his formal talk, Okita unveiled "a seven-point plan for realizing the potential of the Japanese surplus for world economic development." He said the plan resulted from a study by the World Institute for Development Economics Research of Helsinki, Finland, and the United Nations University of Tokyo.
Extension of Aid Program
The proposal outlined by Okita would be a major extension of Japan's extensive foreign aid program and would support specific large-scale projects rather than simply giving aid to developing nations.
Okita's proposal clearly stunned participants in the conference, which was organized by the Stockholm, Sweden-based International Federation of Institutes for Advanced Study.
"Most of us feel we were present at a historic event," said Frank P. Davidson of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who has played key roles in a number of major technological projects, including the construction of a tunnel linking England and France.
Although Japan is expected to play the lead role, the program must be "international in scope," drawing on resources from around the globe, Okita said.
The idea originated with Masaki Nakajima, an economist who headed Japan's Mitsubishi Bank. Nakajima, 80, is the "father" of the International Federation of Institutes for Advanced Study, which was formed in 1972 with support from the Nobel Foundation in Sweden and the Rockefeller Foundation in the United States. The organization is an alliance of more than 30 research institutes around the world.
Worldwide Benefit Seen
Nakajima said he sees major global projects that would benefit all nations as the best alternative to an arms race that threatens an "Armageddon."
"He is very respected in Japan," said Jorgen Rossen, a Danish scientist-turned-financier who is an adviser to the institute. But until Okita entered the picture, Nakajima's program amounted to little more than "a boy's dream of what could be done," Rossen said in an interview.