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Leaders from Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) gathered in Tokyo for a special summit on Sunday. They adopted a joint vision that stresses security and economic collaboration within the framework of the rule of law, particularly in light of rising tensions in regional seas concerning China. Historically, Japan’s ties with the ASEAN bloc stem from Japanese support for developing economies. This was partially influenced by the lingering resentment over Japan’s wartime actions. However, recent years have shifted towards a stronger focus on security concerns. China prompted this by increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea. Japan’s pacifist stance and efforts to build trust complemented this.

This summit commemorates the 50th anniversary of the official establishment of Japan-ASEAN ties in 1973. It initially centered on trade talks that involved Japanese synthetic rubber exports. The leaders emphasized the need to fortify their beneficial partnership and cooperate for peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.

They affirm their commitment to a rules-based Indo-Pacific region that is free, open, and embraces unity, centrality, inclusiveness, and transparency. The leaders stressed the importance of respecting sovereignty, territorial integrity, and settling disputes peacefully, renouncing threats or use of force. Although not explicitly mentioning China, there were concerns over the “situation in East and South China Sea” during the summit. These concerns emphasized the importance of upholding international law.

In addition to adopting an implementation plan for 130 projects, the leaders discussed security and defense cooperation. That included arms technology and equipment transfers, cybersecurity, and combating disinformation. Japan also committed to supporting efforts against climate change, green technology, digital transformation, and investments in the region’s automotive industry.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida expressed Japan’s commitment to addressing global challenges alongside ASEAN, emphasizing mutual trust and pursuing new initiatives to contribute to regional peace and prosperity. Japan, having adopted a new security strategy and bolstered its military capabilities, seeks to counterbalance China’s assertiveness in the region.

On the summit’s sidelines were bilateral talks to strengthen security ties with ASEAN countries. Malaysia and Indonesia signed deals to enhance maritime security capabilities, emphasizing Japan’s role in helping friendly nations with law enforcement and security capabilities.

While ASEAN countries maintain diverse relationships with China, Japan remains attuned to the varying stances within the bloc. Furthermore, Japan aims to advance energy cooperation with ASEAN leaders at an upcoming summit for the Asian Zero Emission Community initiative, with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese expected to participate online.

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