Japan has played a key role in the ASEAN, with informal communications dating to 1973 and formal relations to March 1977, with the ASEAN-Japan Forum. Decades later, Japan remains a robust Dialogue Partner for the ASEAN and its Member States and has made huge strides in support of the association. This strategic cooperative partnership has greatly contributed to stability and development in the region, over the course of nearly fifty years.
“We’re very proud that Japan has actively pursued closer ties and economic partnerships with ASEAN since the 1970s. Japan recognized the economic importance of the region before anyone else, and was among the ASEAN’s first strategic partners — with bilateral cooperation through agreements like the ASEAN, Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership (AJCEP), and also tri-lateral cooperation in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP),” Dr. Kunihiko “Chris” Hirabayashi, MD PhD, Secretary General of ASEAN-Japan Centre (AJC), said.
Building on an atmosphere of trust
“Japan has many things we can offer. Number one, ASEAN and Japan are not only close in distance but are also strong in cultural ties. These cultural ties always bring a lot of opportunity, even during very tough times. This is one aspect. And there’s also the matter of political stability; Japan is among the world’s most stable political systems. This political stability helps to strengthen our long-standing relationship with ASEAN countries, as it creates an atmosphere of trust.”
As one of the most trusted countries in terms of investment, Japan has always been a vital force in the prosperity of Southeast Asia. “Japan’s trust level remains very high. We have responsible stakeholders. According to the ASEAN Report in 2022 Japan is the most trusted country among other major investors,” he added.
In the late 1980s, the combined GDP of the 10 ASEAN Member States was one-tenth that of Japan’s. This combined GDP expanded to US$ 3 trillion in 2019, reaching nearly 60% of Japan’s. “Now, Japan and ASEAN have a side-by-side relationship. We’ve gone from collaboration and cooperation to a push for mutual prosperity. This is the one big change, since 50 years ago.”
The thrust for mutual prosperity
Hirabayashi likewise noted that there are numerous new opportunities for mutual prosperity in the arena of technology transfer, something that Japan has always imparted to the ASEAN countries. But due to Japan’s ageing population, the ASEAN countries — typically younger in population profile — likewise have something to offer. “Japan has brought advanced technology to ASEAN, which helps to boost productivity and competitiveness, as well as discipline in the manufacturing or business process. Japan has provided technological assistance and training to help develop human resources. ASEAN, however, has the younger generations and also a huge population progression, with the middle-income or middle classes growing. Young people are technically savvy. So, it seems the relationship is now changing — and has changed in the last 50 years, of course,” he said.
“And that is why we do need to change our mindset, somehow. It used to be ASEAN needs Japan; but now, Japan also needs ASEAN. This mutual prosperity is the only option, for Japan — in the economic aspect, yes, but also in other aspects, like regional security and sustainable development. We need to continue to co-create solutions, in these areas.”