Japan is hosting the ASEAN Japan Commemorative Summit in Tokyo. Each head of state or government from all 10 ASEAN member states will convene in Tokyo to commemorate our 40 years of friendship and cooperation, as well as to chart our partnership into the future.
Japan and ASEAN share common interests in keeping and developing an open, transparent and networked region that ensures enduring peace, stability and prosperity, while ASEAN exists as its central component. Our relationship has been successful in many ways to make this region one of the most vibrant centers of the 21st century.
We should not, however, be complacent. Looking back at what we have achieved together, and taking into consideration in the changing dynamics within the region, we need to discern the continuing part and evolving part of our partnership.
Our “heart-to-heart” relations definitely remain as it has been for 40 years. The more our relations strengthen over the years, the steadier Japan and ASEAN move from “donor-recipient” relations to real “partnership” relations. Our emphasis on development cooperation and on disaster management, however, will remain the same within the context of gap narrowing among member states and of realizing a community of solidarity with resilience.
Our interaction in the field of economy is evolving. We are determined to work with ASEAN to achieve its community building by 2015 and beyond. ASEAN’s integration is moving into new stages through broader and deeper connectivity, which will generate values of more than just a sum of individual ten countries. The important part of Japan’s new future as our Prime Minister Shinzo Abe describes: “Japan is back”, lies in the better networking of Asia-Pacific.
Our partnership, in this regard, involves not only facilitating the physical connectivity which is still insufficient in many parts of ASEAN, but also promoting institutional connectivity, which is essential to realize smooth transaction of goods, services and capital. Agreement on service and investment chapters of AJCEP and the conclusion of RCEP are also important in this regard.
Another challenge is to overcome what is usually referred to as the “middle income trap”. Japan can share its experience on how to nurture small and medium sized enterprises, which can play a critical role in gap-narrowing and inclusive economic development.
Networks of production centers of Japanese manufacturing industry in the region will continue to offer unparalleled opportunities for capacity building, technology transfer, nurturing of relevant companies, which is indispensable for countries to take new steps forward avoiding the “trap.”
We can also enhance our cooperation in such fields as environment protection, energy conservation, food security, social safety net, aging society and others. We have a lot to share with ASEAN in these fields as a country that has overcome some of these challenges, while still struggling in many other fields.
In the political-security field, our partnership should be much more enhanced. Cooperation should be encouraged in such fields as anti-piracy measures, actions against transnational crimes, cybercrimes as well as cooperation in peace building/ keeping or protection and promotion of human rights, etc.
On South China Sea, Japan should be clear and firm in its message and action. Japan, with her legitimate strategic interests at stake like all others, is determined to work with ASEAN to ensure peace and stability based upon established International laws.
I wish to note here, one thing which is ambitious but important; regional order or architecture building with ASEAN. Two distinct changes are taking place in the region: multilayered architecture formation (ASEAN, ASEAN+1, +3, EAS, ARF, ADMM+ etc) and the transformation of geopolitical landscape. Under such circumstances, what kind of game are we going to play?
Though balance of power is a reality of international politics, playing games solely along this reality might make ASEAN a board game of “Go,” where competing powers try to get their respective followers to gain more influence than others. Instead, at the venue of external powers’ engagement, ASEAN should be a hub of regional architecture.
Japan is willing to support ASEAN’s endeavor in this regard, as long as ASEAN strives to be strong, united and cherish basic values such as rule of law, democracy, human rights, etc. that are clearly embedded in the ASEAN Charter. Japan, also, should be strong and reasonable so that our voice is heard by ASEAN and other partners.
Last but not least, the importance of Indonesia in our relationship with ASEAN cannot be overemphasized. Indonesia occupies a critically important place as a country that is making every effort to embody aforementioned basic values and having overcome many difficulties such as military dominant autocratic regime, religious conflicts, ethnic conflicts and turbulent transitional period to democracy.
As Indonesia has gone through all these, its words weigh much more vis-a-vis other ASEAN countries than other external partners including Japan. We will closely work with Indonesia not only in a bilateral context but also in that of ASEAN and Asia-Pacific for the peace and prosperity of the region.
The writer is Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Mission of Japan to ASEAN.