• Kyodo

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Japan called for stronger ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in an annual report on foreign aid Friday, saying they were vital to ensuring its national security at a time when China’s influence in the region is growing.

Seeing the 10-member regional bloc not only as an “extremely important market” and “place for investment,” the ODA White Paper for 2014 said, “Achieving growth and stability in ASEAN has a great significance as well to Japan’s security when thinking about how the distribution network for goods underpinning the Japanese economy runs through the region.”

The report was approved by the Cabinet a month after the country’s Development Cooperation Charter, revised for the first time since 2003, highlighted Japan’s stance of using official development assistance to protect its national interests in the wake of the changing global environment.

Under the charter, Japan’s ODA can be used to support foreign armed forces in noncombat operations such as disaster relief, infrastructure building and coast guard activities. Until then, ODA was usually disbursed for projects to build infrastructure and reduce poverty in recipient countries.

Looking back at how Japan has been appreciated by its aid recipients over the past 60 years, the white paper said ODA is “not only contributing to recipient countries and the international community but Japan’s peace, stability and prosperity too.”

On China, the paper said Japanese ODA will be disbursed in “limited” cases such as grants and technical cooperation to tackle issues such as pollution, infectious diseases and food security in China.

The report showed that Japan’s ODA in 2013 totaled about $22.53 billion, up 20.7 percent from the previous year and ranking second after the United States.

With a combined population of over 600 million, Southeast Asian nations are among the key recipients of Japanese ODA, notably Myanmar and Vietnam. The other ASEAN members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

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