Leaders from Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) gathered in Tokyo for a special summit on Sunday, marking the 50th anniversary of official Japan-ASEAN ties. The summit adopted a joint vision highlighting security and economic cooperation while upholding the rule of law, especially in the context of rising tensions in regional waters involving China.
Traditionally, Japan's relationship with the 10-member ASEAN bloc was centered on Japanese assistance to developing economies, partly overshadowed by historical issues from Japan's wartime past. However, in recent years, the focus has shifted towards security concerns due to China's increased assertiveness in the South China Sea. Japan's postwar pacifist stance and efforts to build trust have contributed to more amicable relations.
The leaders issued a joint statement calling for the strengthening of their mutually beneficial partnership and collaboration for peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific, with a particular emphasis on maritime security. They emphasized the importance of economic security and greater supply chain resilience, as well as facilitating the movement of each other's nationals. Their vision entails promoting a rules-based Indo-Pacific region characterized by freedom, openness, ASEAN's unity, centrality, inclusiveness, and transparency.
The leaders reaffirmed their commitment to respecting sovereignty and territorial integrity, resolving disputes through peaceful means, and renouncing the threat or use of force. While these statements were not explicitly directed at China, concerns were raised during the summit about the situation in the East and South China Sea, emphasizing the importance of upholding international law.
The summit participants endorsed an implementation plan encompassing 130 projects. Japan advocated for heightened security and defense cooperation, covering areas such as arms technology transfers, cybersecurity, and combating disinformation. Additionally, Japan pledged support for climate change initiatives, green technology adoption, digital transformation, and investments, particularly in the automotive industry within the region.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, during a joint news conference with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who currently chairs ASEAN, underscored the importance of tackling various global challenges in collaboration with ASEAN. He emphasized the role of ASEAN as the linchpin of a free and open Indo-Pacific and expressed Japan's commitment to contributing to regional peace and prosperity.
Japan's evolving security strategy, a build-up of its military capabilities, and expanded military partnerships are responses to China's growing assertiveness in the region. On the summit's sidelines, Kishida engaged in bilateral talks with ASEAN counterparts, furthering Japan's efforts to enhance security ties.
In particular, Kishida and Malaysian counterpart Anwar Ibrahim signed a deal worth $2.8 million to enhance Malaysia's maritime security capabilities under Japan's official security assistance program. This support includes the provision of rescue boats and equipment to bolster Malaysia's role in maritime warning and surveillance in the vital sea lanes connecting the Indian Ocean and East Asia.
Another agreement saw Japan offering Indonesia a grant of $63.7 million to advance its maritime security capabilities, including a large-scale maritime patrol boat constructed in Japan.
Japan has been actively providing coastal surveillance radars to the Philippine navy and has initiated discussions for a key defense pact called the Reciprocal Access Agreement to facilitate troop movements between Japan and the Philippines for joint military exercises. On Sunday, Japan and the Philippines signed an agreement to enhance cooperation between their coast guards.
Additionally, Japan and Vietnam recently elevated their relationship to a top-level comprehensive strategic partnership, with discussions ongoing for expanding their defense cooperation.
While ASEAN countries maintain diverse ties with China and are cautious about taking sides, Japan remains mindful of the complex geopolitical landscape.
On Monday, Japan will seek to advance energy cooperation with ASEAN leaders at a summit focused on the Asian Zero Emission Community initiative, with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese expected to participate online.
This summit signifies the commitment of Japan and ASEAN to navigate regional challenges through collaboration, underlining the importance of diplomacy and cooperation in addressing complex geopolitical issues in the Indo-Pacific region.