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Home > Media Reiews > News Review Last Updated: 14:53 03/09/2007
News Review #179: December 11, 2003

Japan, ASEAN hold summit to mark 30 years of ties

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

"Japan, ASEAN hold summit to mark 30 years of ties"


If a short, satirical view is called for, the expression in the article is very apt. "The summit is widely seen as Japan's bid to catch up with China and India in exerting regional influence."

Perhaps it does have some truth in it. But the sheer fact that an ASEAN summit meeting for the first time is being held outside the member countries suggests there may be more to it than that. As with any such multilateral gathering, each participant must have considered the implications of holding the meeting in Japan, vis--vis their own agendas, which were then carried in the very hands of the heads of states, to be discussed in Tokyo multilaterally as we as bilaterally.

ASEAN leaders gathered in Tokyo for the two-day meeting starting today, and for Japan, the agenda is fairly simple. The real issue is to what extent Japan could convince ASEAN members of its determination.

On the political front, Japan intends to sign the "Treaty of Amity and Cooperation", better known simply as TAC in the region, ratified by ASEAN members in the 70s. It was proposed by the ASEAN at the last summit in Bali in October, where ASEAN plus Three (Japan, China and Korea) meeting took place consecutively, for Japan to participate. China instantly accepted their solicitation and expressed its intention to join TAC, while Japan's attitude remained equivocal. Japan could not determine its position at the time, as there were voices in the country cautioning signing such an agreement might infringe upon the Constitution prohibiting collective "military" measures. An irony in a way, as China, who constantly accuses Japan's policies that could provide for the slightest hint of militarism, was so aggressive in participating TAC. Expression of the intention to sign TAC means that whatever the domestic hindrance existed to cope with, apparently the fear has been overcome by the policymakers led by Mr Koizumi.

Japan would want to win sympathy for its policies regarding Iraq and North Korea. As such, this is in fact a good occasion to explain Japan's position to the ASEAN leaders of the recent decision to send SDF to Iraq. And the abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korean agents must be constantly reminded, as it could get lost in the more global agenda of its nuclear armament.

As for economy, Japan would express intentions to start FTA negotiations with some of the ASEAN members, and suggest beginning the study with the rest and the ASEAN itself. Japan, with all its economic troubles, is still the second largest economy in the world which has invested into the region more then anyone, far surpassing China.

The failure of the FTA negotiation with Mexico in October left Japan with despair, which has invoked explicit assertion against old guards claiming to protect traditional farmers. As a consequence, structural reform of agriculture sector has finally surfaced to be discussed without initiating riots abetted by vested interests. This ASEAN meeting would therefore be a good chance to determine to what extent Japan has overcome the trauma after the Mexican failure.

Not much is expected to come out of Social and Cultural fronts this time, though they are the areas where more attention would be required toward the future, either as a corollary of strengthened economic ties in accordance with FTAs, such as movement of people, or as possible discontents of people in fear of losing cultural identities as the volume of information exchange increases.

This would indeed be a good opportunity for Japan to reestablish its relationship with ASEAN and its members, and let us hope Mr Koizumi and the gang could make the most out of it.

Copyright © Japanese Institute of Global Communications