Foreign Minister’s Visit to Asian Nations: Deepen Relationship of Trust, Mutual Benefits

Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have been earnestly cooperating for half a century. It is vital to further deepen these relationships of trust through exchanges in various fields and build mutually beneficial ties.

Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa recently visited four ASEAN countries: Brunei, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. During her trip, she confirmed Japan’s intention to work together with those nations ahead of a special ASEAN-member summit to be held in Tokyo in December.

Kamikawa, who assumed office last month, opted to first visit ASEAN affiliates to demonstrate — both domestically and internationally — the importance that Japan places on Southeast Asia.

During a meeting with her Vietnamese counterpart, Kamikawa urged improvements in the country’s investment environment following disruptions in the operations of Japanese companies in Vietnam due to frequent tax-system revisions and payment delays.

In a meeting with a foreign minister of Brunei, she confirmed the stable supply of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Japan. Brunei, which exports more LNG to this country than anywhere else, views Japan as an important trading partner. It is significant for Japan, too, to secure energy in diversified ways.

Cooperation between Japan and ASEAN began with a ministerial meeting in 1973. Since then, Japan has supported nation-building among ASEAN countries by constructing infrastructure through its official development assistance programs, and has expanded trade and investment.

During a 1977 visit to the Philippines, then Japanese Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda announced the so-called Fukuda Doctrine, which outlined Japan’s diplomatic principles regarding ASEAN. Phrases including “heart-to-heart” relationship and “equal partner” contained within the doctrine came to serve as the foundation of Japan’s friendly relations with ASEAN nations.

The special summit scheduled for December will commemorate the 50th anniversary of amity and cooperation between Japan and ASEAN. The event needs to be an opportunity to put forward ideas regarding the expansion of economic cooperation and interpersonal exchanges as equal partners.

China invests heavily in ASEAN countries and continues to strengthen its influence in Southeast Asia. The United States is also trying to bring ASEAN members under its sphere of influence in order to shift away from dependence on China for its supply chains of semiconductors and other products.

However, some ASEAN countries are keen to distance themselves from the hegemonic struggle between Washington and Beijing. In this regard, Tokyo could function as a bridge between the United States and ASEAN countries.

Summit diplomacy has grown in importance in recent years due to mounting international tensions — including Russia’s aggression against Ukraine — and an increasing need to facilitate communication among leaders.

It is hoped that Kamikawa will support Prime Minister Fumio Kishida by laying the groundwork for various summit diplomatic occasions while also striving to widen the scope of political, economic, cultural and other exchanges with other countries.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 14, 2023)