Asean-Japan relations - past and present

28/04/2017    60

MY heartiest congratulations on the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Asean! The partnership between Asean and Japan formally began in 1973 with the launch of the Asean-Japan forum on synthetic rubber. In 1977, then Japanese Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda held the first Asean-Japan Summit during a visit to South-east Asia, laying the foundation for the future development of the Asean-Japan relationship with the declaration of the "Fukuda Doctrine", outlining the principles for Japan's diplomacy towards Asean, particularly, "Heart-to-Heart Relationship".

Hence, this year, which marks the 40th anniversary of the "Fukuda doctrine", can be said to be a year of many milestones for Asean-Japan relations. Japan is Asean's oldest partner. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited this region again at the beginning of 2017 in a show of his continuous commitment to Asean.


Asean has achieved tremendous progress since its establishment 50 years ago. With a massive market of a GDP of US$2 trillion and over 600 million people, Asean is expected to maintain high economic growth as a centre for global growth. After the end of World War II, Japan took part in helping in the nation-building of many South-east Asian countries through its Official Development Assistance (ODA) programme. After several decades, Japan concluded with Singapore its first Economic Partnership Agreement (JSEPA) in 2002. Since then, Japan and Asean member countries have further deepened their relationships as major trade and investment partners through bilateral EPAs and other forms of trade cooperation such as the Asean-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership (AJCEP). Japan and Asean are the second largest trade partners mutually, and Japan is the second largest investor, after the EU, in Asean.

Well over 4 million Japanese choose Asean countries as a travel destination every year, while the number of visitors to Japan from Asean countries rose sharply to more than 2 million in 2015, an almost threefold increase from the visitor numbers in 2010. In addition, more than 9,000 Japanese companies have established their presence in Asean countries. These trade and economic activities have enabled an even closer relationship to be forged between Asean and Japan.


The year 2013 marked the 40th anniversary of the formal relationship between Japan and Asean. At the commemorative summit held in Tokyo, Japan and Asean confirmed that they would strengthen their cooperative relationship as partners based on four pillars: "peace and stability", "prosperity", "quality of life" and "heart-to-heart". Japan also announced a new assistance package for Asean community-building through ODA worth 2 trillion yen over five years and for Asean integration through the new Japan-Asean Integration Fund (JAIF) worth US$100 million.

Also, in people-to-people exchange, Japan launched a new Asian cultural exchange policy called "the WA Project". The project promotes dialogue and exchanges between artists and cultural figures, as well as provides support for Japanese language studies. At the same time, an exchange initiative was also launched, targeting some 30,000 young people from the Asia/Oceania region including Asean, known as "JENESYS (Japan-East Asia Network of Exchange for Students and Youth)". Of course, we cannot forget either that the traditional programme SSEAYP (Ship for South East Asian Youth Programme) has done a great deal to bring Asean and Japanese youth much closer together for the past four decades.

In keeping with "Asean Community Vision 2025", adopted by Asean member states in 2015, Japan has lent intensive support to the realisation of this vision, including, in particular, the improvement of connectivity of Asean. In June last year, in Thailand, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida announced that Japan will promote the development of infrastructure, both qualitatively and quantitatively, under its "Expanded Partnership for Quality Infrastructure" initiative, especially for the East-West Economic Corridors (extending from Da-nang to Mawlamyine) and the Southern Economic Corridors (connecting Ho Chi Minh, Phnom Penh, Bangkok and Dawei) on land. Of course, we also believe that adoption of Japan's Shinkansen system for the high-speed rail project connecting Singapore and Malaysia would make a great contribution to Asean connectivity.

In this region, Asean and its partners, including Japan, are confronted with various challenges, including terrorism, extremism and those related to maritime security. Asean's stability and prosperity as a strategic point between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean will not only affect the stability and prosperity of East Asia, but will also influence the global society. Japan is proclaiming the Three Principles of "the Rule of Law" at Sea, advocated by Prime Minister Abe at the Shangri-La Dialogue in 2014, namely that (1) states shall make and clarify their claims based on international law, (2) states shall not use force or coercion in trying to drive their claims and, (3) states shall seek to settle disputes by peaceful means. In order to keep the peace and stability in the region, the principle of the "rule of law" is required to be upheld and practised. Japan will contribute towards ensuring peace, stability and prosperity in the region and international community under the policy of "Proactive Contribution to Peace" based on the principles of international cooperation and the related "Legislation for Peace and Security".


Forty years ago, in 1977, Japan's Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda declared the "Fukuda Doctrine". Forty years on, Asean has undergone rapid development, and today, Japan and Asean are indispensable partners. It can be said that the relationship between Japan and Asean is no longer just confined to inter-governmental affairs, but has also expanded to business, culture and personal relations. Such relationships have spread across the region both through the Japan-Asean relationship as a whole and through the respective bilateral relationships of Japan and Asean member countries.

Let's look at the Singapore-Japan Partnership.

Last year, Japan and Singapore also celebrated the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations (SJ50), and in collaboration with the Japanese Association, Singapore (JAS) and the Japanese Chamber of Commerce & Industry Singapore (JCCI) and other partners, the "SJ50 Matsuri" was successfully held along Orchard Road in October.

In economic and business terms, on the government level, in accordance with the agreement reached last year between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the first-ever Japan-Singapore Bilateral High-level Comprehensive Talks on Land-Sea-Air Transport and Infrastructure Collaboration have just recently been launched to further strengthen our cooperation in these fields on a global scale.

More and more Japanese companies have their regional headquarters in Singapore. For them, Singapore is an excellent "Base camp" and "Hub" to do business in the entire Indo-Pacific Region and even globally. Therefore, I think, there is an increasingly great potential for many Japanese and Singapore businesses to work closely together in third countries and in third markets, anywhere in the world. That could be called the concept of a "Singapore-Japan Global Business Partnership".

In the cultural domain, back in 2007, again, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong agreed to establish the "Japan Creative Centre (JCC)" as a base in Singapore for disseminating information on Japanese culture in a broad sense of the word and its creativity - in short, on what Japan is all about. I believe that the JCC is now becoming more of an information "gateway", and "catalyst" for people-to-people exchanges, connecting Japan and Asean "from Singapore".

In the past 50 years, the relationship between Japan and Asean has transformed from just a two-way relationship to a more multi-layered one. Japan respects the "diversity" of each Asean member country, and ensures it will contribute to the unity and centrality of Asean. We must further strengthen this relationship for the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Asean-Japan relations in 2023 and Asean's centennial celebration 50 years from now.

I wish Asean further enduring success and prosperity and wish all of you all the best!

Source: Business Times