Japan PM Kishida Meets Separately with 7 ASEAN Leaders

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, right, shakes hands with Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo on Saturday.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Saturday held separate meetings with seven country heads currently visiting Tokyo for a summit between Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The Japanese government has agreed to provide Malaysia with defense equipment worth about ¥400 million — including a small rescue boat and a drone for surveillance and other operations — under the Official Security Assistance (OSA) framework. The framework allows Japan to provide free defense equipment and other supplies to the armed forces of like-minded countries.

“We hope to maintain and strengthen the free and open international order and enhance cooperation with ASEAN members at a time when the world is at a historic turning point,” Kishida told Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim in the first session of Saturday’s summit talks.

During the meeting, the two leaders agreed to launch Strategic Dialogue between their countries’ foreign and defense authorities. Furthermore, a joint statement issued after the meeting stated that the Japan-Malaysia relationship would be upgraded to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.

Malaysia is currently engaged in a dispute with China over maritime sovereignty in the South China Sea. Japan hopes to restrain China’s hegemonic moves through the OSA framework, among other measures.

Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines also are at odds with China in the South China Sea. During his meeting with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Kishida confirmed Japan’s intention to grant Indonesia aid totaling about ¥9.05 billion for a large patrol vessel.

Meanwhile, Kishida and Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh agreed to expand defense exchanges and promote cooperation for the transfer of defense equipment.

ASEAN-Japan relations date back to 1973 following a ministerial meeting to address concerns over Japanese synthetic rubber exports.

The special summit — commemorating 50 years of friendship and cooperation between Japan and ASEAN — was set to wrap up Monday.

Kishida was to meet respectively with the leaders of nine participating ASEAN member states, and East Timor, which is set to join the bloc and is attending the Tokyo summit as an observer.

ASEAN member states differ in their political systems and relations with China. For example, landlocked Laos is highly dependent on China for its economy. During his meeting with Laos’ Prime Minister Sonexay Siphandone, Kishida expressed Japan’s support of Laos for ASEAN presidency in 2024.

In his meeting with Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei, which deploys “omnidirectional diplomacy,” Kishida expressed gratitude for the stable supply of liquefied natural gas and expressed his intention to strengthen cooperation in the energy sector.