Kishida Advocates Stronger ASEAN Ties to Counter China, Pledges to Encourage Public, Private Sector Cooperation

Pool via Reuters
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida delivers his speech at the House of Representatives in Quezon City, Philippines, on Saturday.

MANILA — Prime Minister Fumio Kishida delivered the first-ever speech by a Japanese prime minister at the Philippine Congress on Saturday, expressing a strong desire to promote both public- and private-sector cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Kishida had a summit meeting in Malaysia on Sunday and intends to use this overseas tour to reaffirm Japan’s focus on ASEAN, ahead of the Japan-ASEAN special summit to be held in Tokyo in December.

“We will mobilize private funds as well, supporting ASEAN’s resilience and sustainability,” Kishida said in his speech, with cooperation over maritime security and strengthening supply chains in mind.

Regarding the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, a regional cooperation framework proposed by ASEAN, he emphasized collaboration toward garnering broad support for principles such as “openness, transparency, inclusivity, and a rules-based framework.”

The use of terms like “openness” and “transparency” strongly suggested an attitude of countering China, which exerts influence through massive, non-transparent investments. Japan has built strong ties with Southeast Asia over the years, but there has been a noticeable shift by some countries to prioritize economic relations with China.

Marking the 50th anniversary of Japan-ASEAN friendship and cooperation this year, Kishida and Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa have been visiting ASEAN member countries since March 2022.

The government’s key tool for strengthening cooperation is Official Security Assistance, which includes the free provision of defense equipment. The aim is to strategically encircle China, in collaboration with countries embroiled in territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

The Philippines and Malaysia are designated as target countries for Official Security Assistance this fiscal year, and plans are underway to include Vietnam and Indonesia next fiscal year.

The United States has been forced to address the triple front of China, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the Middle East situation, and has limited capacity to focus on Southeast Asia. “Japan’s role is becoming increasingly significant,” a senior official at Japan’s Foreign Ministry said.