Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) upgraded their relations to the category of “comprehensive strategic partnership” to boost cooperation in maritime security and other fields, amid growing Chinese influence in the region.
As reported by Kyodo News, the elevation of ties, announced at the ASEAN-Japan summit in Jakarta, comes as Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida unveiled his country’s human resource development plan for 5,000 people in fields such as maritime security and digitization over the next three years.
Japan and other major powers, including the United States, have been trying to deepen their participation in the 10-member regional bloc. For its part, Japan launched the Japan-ASEAN Comprehensive Connectivity Initiative to strengthen support for ASEAN countries.
“Our nation will grow with ASEAN members by promoting technical cooperation with them,” Kishida declared in a speech at the ASEAN-Indo-Pacific Forum announcing the new initiative.
In 2021, China elevated relations with ASEAN to the status of a comprehensive strategic partnership, with the United States and India following suit.
At the summit, Kishida also pledged to work together with his counterparts to hold a special summit in Tokyo in December to mark the 50th anniversary of their friendship, according to the Japanese government.
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This year marks the 50th anniversary of the important cooperative ties between Japan and ASEAN, which began in 1973 with the establishment of a forum on synthetic rubber.
Kishida informed ASEAN leaders that Japan will provide financial assistance to speed up the start-up of the ASEAN Center for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases.
Japan has also pledged to help each ASEAN member digitize infrastructure, improve cybersecurity, strengthen supply chains for food and other products, and promote decarbonization, he added.
Kishida also detailed the discharge into the Pacific Ocean of treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant, stressing that the government considers the discharge to be safe.
His remarks came at a time when tensions between Tokyo and Beijing have risen in the wake of the dumping of treated water, which began late last month despite opposition from neighboring countries, including China.
The ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine and the situation in the East and South China seas, where tensions are highest due to Beijing’s military assertiveness, were also raised during the ASEAN-Japan summit, according to the officials.
Kishida is on a weeklong trip starting Tuesday to Indonesia and India to attend ASEAN-related summits and a two-day meeting of leaders of the Group of 20 economies in New Delhi.
ASEAN is made up of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
East Timorese Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao attended the meeting for the first time as the group granted his country observer status. The bloc agreed in principle last year to admit East Timor as its 11th member.