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Asian countries seeking ways for cultural development
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The development of Asian culture during the present global downturn is the focus of a ministerial round-table meeting involving 17 countries, a major part of the 11th Asian Arts Festival, which began Tuesday in Ordos of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

"The impact of the global financial crisis has extended to various aspects of society. Cultural development in Asia is facing severe challenges, and how to deal with the challenges are urgent issues facing Asian countries," said Cai Wu, China's culture minister in his opening speech.

He said many cultural projects in Asian countries had to be cancelled or suspended due to shortage of funds as a great deal of social funding had been diverted to bolster the economic sector to weather the financial crisis. Companies and organizations were reluctant to commit to cultural investments.

He said the downturn had also caused a drop in demand for culture and associated activities.

"Bankers who lost their jobs are no longer seen at art auctions, and those who are worried about the future won't go to an opera."

"Four hundred years of colonization never robbed the Philippines of its cultural identity ... The colonial power and influence only comprised part and parcel of what we are to create a more concrete national identity," said Chairwoman Vilma L. Labrador of the Philippines' National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

"The hunger for change is universal, and at the outset of the present global financial crisis, the call for a revolution echoes more strongly," said the chairwoman, adding that culture and the arts had become "weapons" in the country to fight social problems such as poverty, drugs and terrorism.

According to her, Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has added a whole chapter in the country's "Medium Term Development Plan", recognizing culture and the arts as a major force for education and catalyst for social transformation.

Labrador revealed this year the NCCA launched an experimental program titled "Artists for Crisis," which aimed to invite Lumad, Moro, and Christian artist groups to set up creative arts workshops for children and women, a special group vulnerable to social and familial problems amid the crisis.

"The economic crisis has caused us to more seriously emphasize soft power as a breakthrough measure," said Hideo Tamai, commissioner of Japan's Agency for Cultural Affairs.

Japan's supplementary budget for the current fiscal year has greater allocations for areas such as the enhancement of national art galleries, museums, and theaters, as well as comprehensive centers and preservation, experimentation, and diffusion of new culture and arts.

According to Hideo Tamai, Japan has been organizing the "World Cultural Forum" to promote understanding of Asian culture and making it a tradition to set up "exchange years" with other Asian countries.

For 2009, the agency is supporting the "Mekong-Japan Exchange Year," which includes exchange projects ranging from traditional culture to modern media arts in Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and Laos.

Ministers from other countries, including Japan, Singapore and Thailand, will also make speeches on cultural development during the afternoon session. An agreement to boost cultural cooperation among Asian countries is expected to be signed at the end of the meeting.

The 11th Asia Arts Festival, sponsored by China's Ministry of Culture, runs from Aug. 18 to 26. It is the first time it has been held in China's western region.

The festival will also feature art exhibitions and performances of troupes from 18 Asian nations.

(Xinhua News Agency August 18, 2009)

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