BAGAN, MYANMAR – Defense Minister Akinori Eto on Wednesday discussed cooperation in maritime security, humanitarian aid and disaster relief with Southeast Asian counterparts at a meeting in Myanmar.
The gathering in Bagan, central Myanmar, was the first of its kind to boost security ties between Tokyo and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
A Japanese government source said Eto emphasized the importance of Japan-ASEAN cooperation in regional security, telling defense chiefs, “no country can maintain peace alone.”
Eto spoke of Japan’s intention to provide equipment and technology to help ASEAN members build capacity.
With Wednesday’s meeting, Japan became the third country to hold multilateral defense talks with ASEAN members, after the United States and China, which have each already had four such meetings with the ASEAN states.
In February, senior Japanese and ASEAN defense officials agreed in Okinawa to expand cooperation on joint development of equipment to counter terrorism and natural disasters.
At a time when China has been pressing territorial claims in the East and South China seas, Tokyo has been attempting to keep Beijing in check by strengthening defense cooperation with ASEAN members.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proposed the defense chief meeting at the Japan-ASEAN summit in Tokyo in December.
In April, Japan adopted new principles and guidelines on arms exports, the first major overhaul in nearly half a century of its arms embargo policy, in an attempt to play a more active role in global security.
On Wednesday morning, ASEAN defense ministers undertook a retreat to discuss regional and international security, including disputes in the South China Sea, said Myanmar Defense Minister Lt. Gen. Wai Lwin.
Speaking at a press briefing, the general said the ministers discussed the South China Sea only in general terms, keeping the meeting “informal.”
But a source close to the meeting said the ministers agreed to continue work with ASEAN’s dialogue partners, the United States, Japan and China, on maintaining security and ensuring peace and stability in the South China Sea.
They also agreed to push for the early conclusion of a binding code of conduct in the South China Sea, it said.