Japan and ASEAN Forge Closer Ties in Security and Economic Cooperation Amid Regional Tensions

Japan and ASEAN Forge Closer Ties in Security and Economic Cooperation Amid Regional Tensions

At a special meeting in Tokyo on Sunday, December 17, the leaders of Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed to adopt a common vision that emphasizes cooperation on security and economic issues while respecting the rule of law. This comes amid escalating tensions in the South China Sea.

In the past, Japan's relationship with ASEAN was largely based on Japan's development assistance to developing countries, in part due to lingering bitterness over Japan's wartime actions.

In recent years, however, the focus of this relationship has shifted to security, especially in the face of China's increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea. Japan's postwar pacifist stance and efforts to build trust have positively influenced the dynamics of the relationship, making it more friendly.

The summit marks the 50th official anniversary of Japan-ASEAN relations, which began in 1973 with trade talks over Japan's synthetic rubber exports.

In a joint statement, the two sides expressed their desire to strengthen mutually beneficial partnerships and work together for peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region, especially in the context of maritime security. They also committed to enhancing economic security and supply chain resilience in the regin, and supporting the movement of citizens across borders.

Leaders emphasized the importance of respecting sovereignty and territorial integrity, resolving differences or disputes peacefully, and rejecting the threat or use of force.

The leaders also endorsed the implementation plan for 130 projects. Japan called for enhanced cooperation in security and defense, including technology transfer and military equipment, cybersecurity, and countering disinformation. Tokyo also pledged to increase support for climate change initiatives, green technology, digital transformation, and investment, including in the region's automotive industry.

Japan implemented a new security strategy last year and has been rapidly strengthening its military capabilities while expanding military cooperation to counter China's growing assertiveness in the region.

On Saturday, during the summit, Kishida held a series of bilateral meetings as part of Japan's efforts to strengthen bilateral security ties with ASEAN countries.

Kishida and Malaysia, represented by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, signed an agreement worth 400 million yen ($2.8 million) to enhance Malaysia's maritime security capabilities. This agreement is part of Japan's official security assistance program, which is specifically designed to help the armed forces of friendly nations improve their law enforcement and security capabilities. The assistance includes the provision of rescue vessels and other equipment to support the enhancement of Malaysia's military capabilities.

On the same day, Kishida also signed an agreement with Indonesia, represented by President Joko Widodo. Japan offered a grant of up to 9.05 billion yen ($63.7 million) to support Indonesia's plan to improve its maritime security capabilities. The aid includes the provision of large, Japanese-made maritime patrol vessels.

Later on Monday, Japan also sought to promote energy cooperation with ASEAN leaders during the summit for the Zero Emission Asia Community initiative. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is expected to attend the meeting online.

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