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History Table of Contents
1997 Summer Conference
 
Summer Conference 1997
Canada and the Asia-Pacific Promise: Hope, Hype and Reality
A Meeting of Cultures and a Clash of Values:
Living Together in an Interdependent World

Wah Jun Tze,
Director, Tzu Chi Institute, Vancouver

Like the other distinguished participants in this conference, I am fascinated by the rapid changes that are taking place in every field of human endeavour.

Especially noteworthy is the spectacular growth in the economies of China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. These nations are part of the Asian Pacific region that collectively account for more than half the world's trade and commerce.

This growth and change toward a common ideal and prosperity is altering our world faster than most of us realize.

What might regarded as pulse-taking in the pace of growth in the region will occur this coming November 24 and 25 in Vancouver. Taking place there will be the 18-nation Asian Pacific collaboration forum.

What is being billed as the "1997 People's Summit" will generate world attention, with much focus on Canada's unique relationship with the Asian Pacific region.

The large number of delegates to the APEC summit in Vancouver will be striving for a consensus on a number of issues. In this consensus-seeking effort all elements of their respective societies will face challenges.

It is clear to me that as the nations of East Asia improve their economies it will have positive effect on all APEC member countries, particularly with this growing intimacy of contacts between East Asia and the countries of the West in recent years.

As the economies of the Pacific surge forward, and trade barriers come down, there is inevitable concern that so-called Western values will be imposed on the vastly different cultures of Asian countries.

From my own observations, based on world travel — including 74 round trips to Asia since 1986 — I believe there is much that Canada can gain through policies of constructive engagement, collaboration, immigration and professional exchanges.

The scope and pace of economic change, the interaction between people of goodwill having similar aspirations, and the flow of information, will serve to enrich our respective societies in special and unexpected ways.

Permit me to provide an example of mutual benefit that were generated as the result of co-operation and collaboration between Canada and China in the health field.

Over the past 10 years, an organization — the Canada China Child Health Foundation — has been actively involved in institutional linkages. As a result 14 pair of hospitals across Canada and China have been linked up in partnership and the exchanges of health professionals and workers.

Time does not allow me to give a detailed account of our different program activities, however, it can be said that it has had a significant, positive impact in the health care delivery to children and mothers.

Among them the professional standards and skills, health institution administration and health care delivery have been greatly improved in China. As well, there has been improvement in inter-institutional communication and information exchange, and [has] established the framework for institutional accreditation through collaboration and networking.

China's medical community has learned from us and it is interesting to learn that among the 1.2 billion people in recent years there's a dramatic decrease in mortality rates and increased life expectancy, despite limited financial resources. In China, less than three per cent of GNP is devoted to the health care system, while in Canada 12 to 13 per cent in the U.S. and up to 17 per cent.

Despite these limited resources, these accomplishments are attributable to a good public health system and, more important, the Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Evidence of this is the widened availability throughout Canada of such treatment approaches as acupuncture, use of herbs and the introduction of Traditional Chinese Medicine therapies. TCM has been carried out for thousands of years and is part of the Chinese culture.

The Tzu Chi Institute for Complementary and Alternative Medicine was established late last year in Vancouver General Hospital and Health Science Centre, with all other hospitals in the Vancouver region being the partners, late last year.

Its mandate is to try to bridge the gap between conventional and non-conventional medicine, or modern and ancient medicine, so that our advance in technology and scientific ability can help to verify some of the ancient approaches which can greatly enhance our way to treat our patients to improve the health of our populations.

The Institute will play a very important role in the integration of ancient and modern medicine and will greatly benefit people in the local community in Canada as a whole.

More significant, the establishment of the Institute is a historic event of the merging of two diversified health care systems — the modern and ancient medicine and marking the beginning of the integration of conventional and non- conventional medicine.

There is, today, a growing recognition that the blending of modern and traditional medicine has great potential for improving health and lowering health care costs.

Among the 18 APEC members the popularity of using traditional medicine has dramatically increased in recent years; notably in the APEC countries of Australia, China, Canada, the United States and Japan. This trend appears everywhere in the world.

The integration of ancient and modern medicines will have an impact on many areas of concern, other than just health in the Asia Pacific region. This includes the areas of trade, the emerging product opportunities, economic development, agriculture and environment.

The recent growth in natural food products, herbs and medicinal plants has created economic opportunities for individuals and companies.

The rapidly expanding plant medicine industry, an indication of our diversity, has great environmental impact. Experts foresee herb crops as an opportunity to switch from the cultivation of less desirable crops, such as tobacco. Ginseng products in North America have increased from 370 tons in 1983 to 2,000 tons in 1995.

As the traditional and modern medicine approaches converge, there is a need to address many issues to ensure a smooth transition.

The health industry and professionals face unprecedented challenges and change, including demographic shifts, greater consumer awareness, the need of consumer protection and new communication technologies with the re-emergence of old diseases and increasing HIV/AIDS prevalence in some parts of Asia.

All of this is taking place against a backdrop of APEC's easing of trade and travel barriers to promote growth and development within the region.

The concept of health; that health is the absence of disease and focus on illness care is outdated. The definition of health involves much greater and broader impact on human life; health is a resource for living and a cornerstone of the social safety net.

Our health care system should focus on good health creation, disease prevention and wellness maintenance. As the health of all improves, illness care costs will decrease; poverty will decrease and employment will increase.

A focus on good health will lead to healthier people who can generate wealth for the country.

Of all the partnerships among the countries, I believe the partnership in health has a great importance. This partnership could truly revolutionize health care systems and control the spiraling health care costs, here at home and globally as well.

Since there is a undeniable link between people's health and the economy, I strongly believe that a health care initiative should be included in the APEC summit agenda in Vancouver.

Canada, with its scientific and technological leadership, its strategic geographic location and multicultural society can play a major role in bringing together the best approaches to health that both the East and the West have to offer.

Also, because of the rapidly growing Asian dimension throughout Canada, the concept of multicultural health has been receiving increasing attention as health professional institutions seek to better address the needs of racial and cultural communities.

Canada is in a unique position to create a culture on health and play a leading role in the ongoing health revolution, and to shape the future health of people globally.

The benefit of the blending of Canadian and Asian cultures are manifold. The vision of the future I hold is of harmony, not of cultural clashes.