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The relationship between Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations should encompass political, security and cultural cooperation, as well as economic concerns, a senior ASEAN official said Monday in Tokyo.

Although Japan and ASEAN have focused on forging economic and technical ties over the last 30 years, they should also work together, for example, to counter international terrorism and promote student exchange, said ASEAN Secretary General Ong Keng Yong.

Ong was delivering the keynote speech at the 11th Japan-ASEAN Forum on Economy and Culture, organized by the International Friendship Exchange Council and cosponsored by The Japan Times.

Ong, appointed in January, urged Japan to be the first non-ASEAN country to sign the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. The treaty forms the basis of ASEAN’s political, economic and security cooperation and has been signed by all 10 members of ASEAN.

Although the treaty may be regarded as symbolic, signing would bolster Japan’s commitment to ASEAN, he said.

Ong, a native of Singapore, also called for closer ties between ASEAN and East Asian countries — namely, Japan, China and South Korea.

“We hope we can evolve more ties and start discussing how East Asian countries can come together and develop partnership,” he said.

He pushed for the establishment of study groups tasked with investigating the relationship between Southeast and East Asia.

In an ensuing panel discussion, participants considered the current situation and the future prospects of a regional free-trade accord between Japan and ASEAN.

Panelist Keiji Oga, a professor of agriculture at the University of Tokyo, said farm products such as rice, which has a cultural and environmental significance within Japanese society, should be considered separately from other import goods.

Shunsuke Inamori, a senior adviser to Ajinomoto Co., said he would like an FTA between Japan and ASEAN as it would benefit Japanese exporters.

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