The roots of ASEAN-Japan relations run deep, originating against the backdrop of post-war reconstruction and the complex geopolitics of the Cold War. Japan, in its quest for recovery following World War II, recognized the significance of fostering diplomatic and economic ties with its neighboring Southeast Asian nations. Simultaneously, ASEAN was emerging as a regional organization committed to promoting peace and stability in Southeast Asia. The official commencement of this partnership was marked by the Japan-ASEAN Forum on Synthetic Rubber in 1973.
“The 50-year journey can be encapsulated in one pivotal word: Empowering Solidarity. Beyond the tangible economic partnership, it is the intangible moral and emotional support that underscores the depth of the bond between Japan and ASEAN. For instance, during the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-99, Japan extended vital economic assistance, exceeding $40 billion, showcasing its commitment to regional stability” explained Dr. Kunihiko Hirabayashi, Secretary-General of the ASEAN-Japan Centre. “In return, ASEAN countries provided support in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011” he added. The COVID-19 pandemic has further demonstrated the strength of this friendship, with collaborative efforts on vaccine supply and economic recovery.
Growing Economic Interdependence
The economic ties between Japan and ASEAN have grown stronger over the years, leading to interdependence. According to ASEAN statistics in July 2023, Japan’s direct overseas investment surged by 27.7% in 2022 from the year earlier, reaching $26.7 billion USD. This positions Japan as the second-largest source of investment among non-ASEAN partner countries, following the United States. This remarkable increase, a 17.6% rise from the pre-pandemic year of 2019, is propelled by Japan’s strategic focus on diversifying its supply chain, with particular emphasis on pivotal sectors such as automobiles, electronics, medical equipment, and rare metals.
Furthermore, “the rapid expansion of the digital economy and the burgeoning middle class in ASEAN countries present new investment opportunities in retail, financial and insurance services, healthcare, tourism, innovative technologies, and service sectors” mentioned Dr. Hirabayashi.
“The rapid expansion of the digital economy and the burgeoning middle class in ASEAN countries present new investment opportunities in retail, financial and insurance services, healthcare, tourism, innovative technologies, and service sectors“
Dr. Kunihiko Hirabayashi
Promising Future Prospects
As we look to the future, the 50th anniversary of the ASEAN-Japan Friendship and Cooperation heralds a promising era. Dr. Hirabayashi highlights that the movement of people, goods, money, and information across borders is more active than ever before, with ASEAN now Japan’s second-largest trading partner as of 2022. According to the online survey conducted by the ASEAN-Japan Centre in 2023, over 90% of young people (18-35 years) in the ASEAN Member States see positive relations between ASEAN and Japan, and Japanese young people also view ASEAN as Japan’s second most important partner for the next decade, following the USA.
Moreover, both ASEAN and Japan are committed to the “ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific” (AOIP), which upholds key principles such as ASEAN’s centrality, openness, inclusiveness, transparency, and respect for international law. “This commitment will deepen cooperation in areas like Maritime Cooperation, Connectivity, SDGs, and Economic Resilience. Bilateral economic partnership agreements and the ASEAN-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership (AJCEP) Agreement further facilitate economic exchanges” said Dr. Hirabayashi.
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement, encompassing Japan and ASEAN, came into effect in January 2022, bolstering economic integration and cooperation.
A Unique Approach to Friendship
Japan’s unique strength lies in its approach to partnership. Dr. Hirabayashi underscores Japan’s commitment to understanding and respecting others’ positions and ideas. Japan positions itself “side-by-side” with its ASEAN counterparts, actively collaborating to solve complex issues. “This trust-based approach is encapsulated in the ASEAN-Japan Economic Co-Creation Vision, which looks beyond “people to people” connections to nurturing a genuine “heart to heart” bond” added Dr. Hirabayashi.
In conclusion, the 50-year friendship between ASEAN and Japan has transformed into a strategic alliance by a beacon of cultural harmony, economic prosperity, and mutual respect. As we look forward to the next 50 years, the path is paved for technological collaborations, shared sustainability goals, and deeper people-to-people connections. Together, ASEAN and Japan are pioneering a model of co-creation that leverages the unique strengths and perspectives of each of the two regions.
As we celebrate this enduring partnership, the ASEAN-Japan Centre, under Dr. Hirabayashi’s guidance, assumes a new role, dedicated to implementing activities that resonate with the needs of both parties, by tapping into the dynamism and passion of our young people. This friendship is a mutual journey of creating a shared future, and it stands as a testament to the power of cooperation and mutual understanding, promising a bright future for ASEAN and Japan in the decades to come.
This trust-based approach is encapsulated in the ASEAN-Japan Economic Co-Creation Vision, which looks beyond “people to people” connections to nurturing a genuine “heart to heart” bond.Dr. Hirabayashi
The ASEAN Promotion Centre on Trade, Investment and Tourism (ASEAN-Japan Centre) is an intergovernmental organization established by the ASEAN Member States and Japan in 1981. It has been promoting exports from the ASEAN Member States to Japan while revitalizing investment, tourism as well as people-to-people exchanges between the ASEAN Member States and Japan through seminars, workshops, capacity-building programs, research and policy analysis, cross-cultural events, publication and information services, among others.