Japan and ASEAN strengthen ties at summit focused on security amid China tensions

Leaders of Japan and Southeast Asian nations are expected to meet at a special summit to mark their 50th anniversary of friendship and adopt a joint vision to place greater emphasis on security cooperation among the emerging ten.

Relations between Japan and ASEAN were largely based on Japanese aid to developing economies, due to lingering bitterness over Japan’s wartime activities. But in recent years, ties have become increasingly focused on security amid China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea, while Japan’s postwar pacifist stance and confidence-building efforts have fostered friendly relations.

„Based on our strong relationship of trust, it is our hope that Japan and ASEAN will join forces and find solutions in an era of complex crises that are difficult for any country to resolve,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in his speech. Saturday night at the Royal Guest House in Tokyo.

„When we work together to create stronger and more vibrant economies and societies, we can better protect a free and open international order based on the rule of law,” he added.

Kishida proposed strengthening ties between Japan and ASEAN in defense and trade, investment, climate, technology and people-to-people exchanges. Kishida and this year’s ASEAN chairman, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, are set to announce a joint vision on Sunday after several sessions.

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On the sidelines of the Saturday, Dec. 16-18 summit, Kishida held bilateral talks as Japan seeks to boost bilateral security ties with ASEAN countries.

Kishida and his Malaysian counterpart, Anwar Ibrahim, signed a 400 million yen ($2.8 million) deal to improve Malaysia’s maritime defense capabilities. This is a new Japanese official defense assistance program.

The assistance includes rescue boats and other equipment to help improve Malaysia’s military capabilities, which sit at a critical location along the sea lanes connecting the Indian Ocean and East Asia and play a vital role in warning and surveillance operations for the entire region.

On Saturday, Kishita signed an agreement with Widodo, granting up to 9.05 billion yen ($63.7 million) to fund Indonesia’s maritime defense capacity building program and including a large Japanese-built offshore patrol boat.

In November, Japan announced that it would supply coastal surveillance radars to the Philippine Navy, and the two sides agreed to begin negotiations on a key defense treaty, the Mutual Access Agreement, designed to smooth access by their troops to each other for joint military exercises. .

Later that month, Japan and Vietnam agreed to raise the status of their relationship to a high-level comprehensive strategic partnership, under which they would discuss the details of a possible agreement to expand their defense cooperation.

But ASEAN countries are not locked in their stance toward China, with many having strong ties and reluctant to pick sides. Japanese officials say they are mindful of the situation and are not trying to pick sides.

Japan hopes to push forward energy cooperation with ASEAN leaders when Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is expected to join online at a summit on the Asian Zero Emissions Community Initiative scheduled for Monday.

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