Japan Strengthens Relationship With ASEAN

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Sept. 17 – Japanese leaders have strongly emphasized their intention to further strengthen their relationship with ASEAN as of this year – the 40th anniversary of Japan-ASEAN relations – due to the country’s relatively poor relations with China and South Korea.

Displaying the importance that Japan has put on the region, the first three countries that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited upon being elected this past July were all ASEAN countries (Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia).

By this time next month, he will have visited all 10 ASEAN countries.

Japan is currently ASEAN’s second largest trading partner. In addition, during 2010, it was also the top donor country to Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. Additionally, six of Japan’s top 10 beneficiaries for technical cooperation are in the region: the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Laos.

Japan is now also seeking to increase the amount of investments that it has in the ASEAN region. As it stands, Japanese investments in ASEAN are already three times the amount that China devotes to the region.

Prime Minister Abe’s economic plans appear to be having positive effects on the Japanese economy – the Nikkei 225 Index is trading around 14,000 and the economy is seeing a growth rate of 3.8 percent – which is good news since Japan’s strengthening economy will likely increase economic interaction with ASEAN.

Further, Japanese businesses have started to pursue a “China Plus One” strategy, with ASEAN being the “Plus One”. What this strategy entails is the expansion of operations beyond China to at least one other ASEAN country. An example is the Mitsubishi Rayon Co, which recently signed an memorandum of understanding for a joint study of the carbon fiber business in the ASEAN Economic Community.

Tourism to Japan from ASEAN has also seen a marked increase as of late. Specifically, tourist visits from Thailand and Singapore have seen an increase of 67.8 percent and 39.3 percent, respectively, as compared to last year. This is an important turnaround from previous years where it was mostly tourists from Japan going to ASEAN countries; now the exchange is more even.

Japan is also further building its relationship with ASEAN by collaborating with the countries in the region on research to prevent cyber-attacks and working to prevent cybercrimes. In addition, Japan also pledged to warn ASEAN of any potential computer viruses.

It is clear that ASEAN remains intensely important to the future of Japan. A report on the New Straits Times has even stated that “there should not be any doubt in the minds of Japanese leaders and strategists that ASEAN should be one of its core pillars of diplomacy.”

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