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PM Kishida Vows to Strengthen Maritime and Security Links With ASEAN

As Kishida hailed the next 50 years of Japan-ASEAN relations, Foreign Minister Kamikawa highlighted women's role in conflict prevention at the Tokyo summit.



Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida delivers a speech at a summit marking the 50th year of ASEAN-Japan Friendship and Cooperation on December 17. The Okura Tokyo in Minato-ku, Tokyo (handout).

The mass resignation of ministers from the government on December 13-14 caused turmoil for Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. Nevertheless, he continued to carry out his duties, supported by Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa, who has retained the job she took up in September. 

Over the weekend of December 16-17, the pair gave a warm welcome to the leaders of countries who attended a summit marking the 50th year of ASEAN-Japan Friendship and Cooperation. 

A Complex Group

It is rather misleading to use the word "union" to describe the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. As a group, their level of cooperation is far less extensive than, for example, countries that belong to the European Union. It is inconceivable that there could be an ASEAN central bank or an international parliament.

Southeast Asian countries hold a diverse range of views on geopolitical matters. Most significantly, they do not agree on how to respond to the United States-China rivalry. Nevertheless, taken as a whole, the countries in Southeast Asia take a friendly approach toward Japan. A survey conducted by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore suggests Japan is the region's most trusted and familiar outside partner.

"Japan has won the hearts and minds of Southeast Asians through cultural exchange, official development assistance, foreign direct investment, and soft power," says Kitti Prasirtsuk, Professor of International Relations at Thammasat University in Bangkok.

Prime Minister Kishida at the special summit commemorating 50 years of Japan-ASEAN relations (handout).

Tasty Collaboration 

Professor Prasirtsuk highlights the trend towards fusion dishes in Asian restaurants. 

"In 2022, there were more than five thousand Japanese restaurants in Thailand, many of them locally owned. Japanese beef bowls are localized with Thai spices and seasoning, while several Thai chicken rice stores have opened in Japan. This is a phenomenon affecting many Southeast Asian countries," he says.

As well as generating creativity in the kitchen, Japan has helped to stimulate growth. Over the past decade, Japanese foreign direct investment in ASEAN countries has totaled $198 billion USD. This is behind America's $209 billion USD, but beats China's $106 billion USD, according to the Economist magazine.

The Kishida administration is hoping that ASEAN can serve as a touchstone for building a relationship of trust between Japan and developing countries in other parts of the world.


"For Japan, the ASEAN market is very attractive. The region's overall GDP is expected to overtake Japan's by around 2030. ASEAN is also part of the Global South, which is increasing its influence," says former NHK Asia Bureau Chief, Wataru Fujishita.

Kishida in the ASEAN Region 

Since becoming prime minister, Mr Kishida has visited several ASEAN countries. His most recent trips were to Malaysia and the Philippines

"In every country I visited, I have felt the depth of our shared business ties and the strength of our people-to-people connections that go beyond business," the prime minister told a delegation of young business people who took part in a convention in Karuizawa, Nagano prefecture.

As well as supporting Japan's business interests, the prime minister seeks to enhance security collaboration with like-minded countries. By doing so, he aims to prevent China from unilaterally changing the status quo in the Indo-Pacific by force.

During the conference in Tokyo, Japan offered a grant of ¥400 million JPY ($2.8 million USD) to boost Malaysia's maritime defense. Prime Minister Kishida welcomed the elevation of the Japan-Malaysia relationship to a "comprehensive strategic partnership." 

A similar arrangement was reached recently with the Philippines. The country has placed an order for coastal surveillance radars, paid for with Japanese money.

Since Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos became president of the Philippines in May 2023, its coast guard has conducted joint exercises with Japan and the United States

Women's Peace Participation

Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa was also active at the conference. She regards it as an important part of her work to promote the United Nations' agenda on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS). It states that efforts toward international peace, conflict prevention, and conflict resolution require the equal participation of women.

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa (right) and Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Lestari Priansari Marsudi on December 16 in Tokyo. (©Kyodo)

Kamikawa discussed these issues with female delegates at the ASEAN summit, including Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Lestari Priansari Marsudi. 

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, was co-chair of the summit. He expressed his hope that Japan will contribute to maintaining the resilience of the Indo-Pacific region.

The Next 50 Years

A joint vision statement was issued as the summit closed on the evening of December 17. It highlighted areas of future cooperation, such as maritime security and supply chains.

The wording was kept rather vague, in recognition that some ASEAN countries are cautious about upsetting China. Cambodia, for example, receives large amounts of financial support from China and takes a pro-Beijing stance. Then there are the so-called "in-betweeners" which are being courted by both sides, most notably Vietnam

Vietnam's Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh arrived in Tokyo for the ASEAN summit just a few days after hosting China's leader Xi Jinping in Hanoi. There, a deal was reached to cooperate with China on maritime patrols.

Later, the Japanese said that Vietnam had agreed "to further expand defense exchanges and promote cooperation on the transfer of defense equipment, with the aim of enhancing security cooperation."

In his closing press conference, Prime Minister Kishida avoided singling out any particular ASEAN nations.

He said: "Based on strong mutual trust, Japan and ASEAN will tackle new challenges," adding he is glad that they will take a "new step toward the next 50 years."

The summit underlined Japan's intention to cooperate with ASEAN countries as equals. It will be seen as a valuable step towards safeguarding regional stability. 


Author: Duncan Bartlett, Diplomatic Correspondent

Mr Bartlett is the Diplomatic Correspondent for
JAPAN Forward and a Research Associate at the SOAS China Institute. Read his articles and essays on JAPAN Forward.


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