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Governor plans to make Tokyo 'first city in the world'

He pledges to 'take back' from S'pore its lead as centre of drug development

TOKYO governor Yoichi Masuzoe yesterday laid out a bold plan to make the Japanese capital the "first city in the world" and to "take back" from Singapore the lead it has earned as a drug development centre.

He also pledged to push Tokyo ahead of Hong Kong and Singapore as a financial centre.

Mr Masuzoe, a feisty politician who developed a reputation for battling officialdom while he was health minister some years ago, meanwhile used a speech in Tokyo to launch a sharp attack on Japan's central government bureaucracy for opposing certain aspects of his plans.

By 2020, when Tokyo hosts the summer Olympics, the city could become "unrecognisable" as a leading foreigner-friendly centre for global business, finance and innovation with its own version of the Champs-Elysees and much traffic banished from the city centre, he said.

The World Bank puts Tokyo towards the bottom (in 120th position) of a global index on ease in starting up businesses but Mr Masuzoe believes he can shift Tokyo towards the top by banishing unnecessary regulations and reforming approaches to attracting foreigners.

Among the 10 projects he has prioritised since becoming head of the metropolis is the establishment of a Tokyo Pharmaceuticals and Medical Device Agency for commercialising generic drugs under a rapid approval process.

He also plans to make Tokyo a leading regional healthcare centre. "Singapore is a centre of drug development but I will bring the lead back to Tokyo by 2020," he pledged.

Tokyo's development as a financial centre rivalling Hong Kong and Singapore is also one of Mr Masuzoe's goals although it is not among the top 10 priorities, he said.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration has identified five areas as special economic zones designed to minimise economic regulation on a trial basis and encourage foreign investment, especially in high-tech areas.

Mr Masuzoe wants to make Tokyo a "special zone for global innovation" and proposals for the formation of a centre for drug development, support for company start-ups, creation of special business districts and access to global human resources are designed with this in mind.

But he complained yesterday that some of these plans are in danger of being thwarted by what he called the "Kasumigaseki bureaucracy", or Japanese central government, even though he has consulted Mr Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on his intentions.

Japanese governments "sometimes use special economic zones as an excuse to do nothing but I intend to achieve something", Mr Masuzoe told a mainly foreign audience at the Foreign Press Centre of Japan in Tokyo.

The 10 priority reform areas are within the metropolitan government's power to implement, he said, adding that he intends to garner support from the international financial community in pushing through plans to make Tokyo a global financial centre.

He defended published plans to construct what critics claim is an oversized and excessively costly new Olympics stadium in Tokyo to house Olympic events in 2020. The International Olympics Committee requires that a stadium can accommodate at least 80,000 people, he noted.

Several international gambling groups have proposed opening casinos and commercial complexes in Tokyo and Osaka as well as in other Japanese centres but Mr Masuzoe offered only cautious support for this idea. A Tokyo casino where patrons would be only "foreign nationals" might be possible, he added.