Japan, ASEAN look to future

Summit signs off with 'special relationship' declaration

by and

The summit between Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations closed here Friday with leaders signing a “special relationship” declaration.

The declaration, signed by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and ASEAN leaders, features the creation of the proposed East Asian Community and calls for the now 30-year economic ties to be expanded to embrace political and security issues.

They also inked a joint action plan that calls for cooperation on ASEAN integration, human resource development, antiterror and counterpiracy measures.

The use of the term “special relationship” alludes to the close ties between Britain and the United States.

Also on Friday, Koizumi signed a document expressing Japan’s intention to join the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, a nonaggression pact crafted in 1976.

The two-day gathering marked the first time for the ASEAN summit to be held outside Southeast Asia.

Koizumi denied that Tokyo’s hosting of the summit was motivated by China’s rising economic and political influence over the ASEAN region.

“I have always said that China’s growth is not a threat, but rather an opportunity,” he told a news conference after the summit. “China’s growth will also benefit the growth of Japan and ASEAN countries.”

Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who cochaired the meeting, also emphasized that ASEAN is not just looking to the Chinese market.

China’s growing influence should not be treated as a “zero-sum game,” Megawati said. “Both close ASEAN-Japan and ASEAN-China relations are for the good of all” of Asia, she said.

Yet other delegates were ambivalent on this issue.

“China’s advance to ASEAN is a chance and threat,” George Yeo, Singaporean minister of trade and industry, was quoted as saying at Thursday’s Cabinet-level meeting reviewing the year-old Japan-Singapore FTA.

“The enhanced cooperation between Japan and ASEAN is strategically important.”

Koizumi said Japan will do its best to effect the signing of free-trade agreements with Southeast Asian countries.

Japan formally agreed Thursday to enter into government-level negotiations on bilateral FTAs with Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines.

“The agricultural sector is a sensitive area in any country,” Koizumi said, referring to the politically sensitive issue of opening Japan’s heavily subsidized farm markets to foreign imports. “But I know that we cannot bypass this issue, and we will concede on what we can.”

Regarding Japan’s decision to send Self-Defense Forces units to Iraq, Koizumi emphasized that the Japanese troops will focus on humanitarian and reconstruction assistance and that Japan’s decision was “understood” by Southeast Asian nations.

But Megawati did not offer clear support for Koizumi’s decision.

“We are not in a position to interfere with (Japan’s) domestic policies,” she said. Indonesia has a large Muslim population.

Megawati said Indonesia will not send any troops until the United Nations launches peacekeeping operations in Iraq. “Indonesia will wait to see the situation,” she said.

During the summit, Japan committed $1.5 billion over the next three years to help ASEAN train officials in fields such as education and industry, and another $1.5 billion in the same period for the development of the geopolitically important Mekong River region.

The leaders also reaffirmed their commitment to launching negotiations on the regional FTA between Japan and the whole of ASEAN by 2005, and to implement it by 2012.