Japan, ASEAN vow to widen cooperation as they mark 50 years of ties

 Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations agreed Sunday to deepen relations in the security and economic fields with the geopolitical environment changing amid China’s growing clout, at a summit to commemorate 50 years of friendship and cooperation.

In a “joint vision statement” issued after the gathering in Tokyo, the leaders pledged to step up cooperation on maritime security, strengthen supply chains, promote sustainable energy practices and expand people-to-people exchanges in various sectors.

Among other new efforts to further boost the economy in the fast-growing region is supporting digital startups, as well as accelerating public and private investment to achieve decarbonization, the statement showed.

Kishida was quoted by his government as saying Japan will take measures to mobilize more than $35 billion in public and private funds over the next five years by facilitating investment in ASEAN, while also fostering the exchange of young business leaders with the region.

The leaders also announced the launch of a new initiative for the next-generation car industry aimed at mapping out strategies to enable ASEAN to continue being a major hub of auto production and exports.

“Based on strong mutual trust, Japan and ASEAN will tackle new challenges,” Kishida said at a press conference after the summit ended, adding he is glad that they will take a “new step toward the next 50 years.”

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who served as co-chair, also attended the press event, saying Japan and the bloc will maintain peace and stability in the region while adhering to international law.

The meeting came as Tokyo has been bolstering its ties with developing and emerging countries collectively called the “Global South,” including the 10 ASEAN members, to capitalize on their growth and try to counter Beijing’s increasing influence.

Japan regards its relations with ASEAN as strategically important, with the bloc facing the South China Sea, home to one of the world’s busiest maritime sea lanes. Some ASEAN members have territorial claims there that overlap with China’s.

With China asserting sovereignty over nearly the entire sea and swiftly constructing artificial islands with military infrastructure, the focal point of Japan-ASEAN cooperation has shifted from business to security in recent years.

In the East China Sea, meanwhile, Chinese vessels have repeatedly intruded into waters near the Senkaku Islands, controlled by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing. The group of uninhabited islets is called Diaoyu in China.

With Communist-led China apparently in mind, Japan and ASEAN expressed their vision in the statement for a world where all countries can “uphold the principles of democracy” and “respect for and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Tokyo’s substantial cooperation with ASEAN goes back to 1973, when they set up a forum on synthetic rubber to solve a trade dispute over Japanese rubber exports.

Japan and ASEAN recognized “the significant progress and outstanding achievements” of their “wide-ranging cooperation and close partnership in the last half-century,” according to the statement.

Along with the joint statement, the leaders released concrete plans to implement their agreements, listing 130 projects in specific cooperative areas such as agriculture, sports and culture.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Myanmar, which has been under military rule since a February 2021 coup, was not invited to the summit.

East Timor’s Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao took part in Sunday’s gathering as an observer, as ASEAN has agreed in principle to admit the nation as its 11th member.

The nine participating ASEAN leaders are scheduled to join a separate summit of the 11-member Asia Zero Emission Community framework, also involving Japan and Australia, on Monday, with the focus on reducing carbon emissions.

BY Nadeem Faisal Baiga

Source KYODO