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The Association of East Asian Nations (ASEAN) 50th Anniversary Symposium IV was held with the tagline “ASEAN@50” on March 1 in Tokyo’s Minato Ward.

Approximately 250 people attended the symposium organized by the ASEAN-Japan Centre (AJC), the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) and the ASEAN Committee in Tokyo (ACT).

The event celebrated and highlighted the release of five reports that are also titled “ASEAN@50” published by ERIA, and provided a panoramic perspective and analysis of ASEAN’s 50 years of history and the member states. There was also an opportunity to discuss the future of ASEAN.

The five-volume reports “ASEAN@50” give in-depth analysis on ASEAN’s 50-year journey in various aspects. The reports, introduced by ERIA President Hidetoshi Nishimura, focus not only on the reflections of ASEAN leaders and officials, economic transformation and integration, political security and sociocultural reflections and the future of the ASEAN economic community, but also the voices of the people of Southeast Asia.

The symposium started with welcome remarks by AJC Secretary-General Masataka Fujita, who explained that the symposium was meant to consider benefits and costs of ASEAN’s regional integration deepened in the past 50 years through panel discussions on ASEAN centrality and its community building process, as well as issues related to the ASEAN Economic Community by prominent experts in the ASEAN studies.

It was followed by remarks by Japan’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs Kazuyuki Nakane who extended his expectation toward AJC to effectively implement its activities taking diverse efforts of exchanges into account and continue to serve as a bridge between ASEAN and Japan; and toward ERIA to continue its intellectual contribution for the regional development. He also emphasized that Japan wants to continue its amicable relations with ASEAN built up by predecessors and pledged to develop the relations further.

Parliamentary Vice-Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Masaki Ogushi also made remarks, stressing that ASEAN has been indispensable partner for Japan since they started dialogue in 1973. He mentioned that Japan wishes to maintain and develop the partnership for further economic integration and emerging social challenges.

The panel discussion in the symposium was concluded by the AJC’s Fujita. He mentioned that Japan should further seek ways to contribute to the enhancement of ASEAN’s resilient, dynamic, people-oriented and people-centered community. He also commented that the future success of ASEAN in the fast-paced era of digital economies powered by information and communication technologies will require continued interaction between the public and private sectors, as well as the commitment from businesses to further the direct relations among the member states.

The highlight of the symposium was the keynote speech by Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai. In his speech, he mentioned that even though there have been times when the rapid expansion of trade, investment and support between Japan and ASEAN was misunderstood and many of the group’s members reacted with aversion during the early stages of ASEAN’s establishment, Japan’s continued efforts to promote the equal partnership, as well as ASEAN’s flexible, strong and collective wisdom based on its ability to focus on being realistic has succeeded in creating a solid ASEAN-Japan bond.

“A fixed image of a country provides a basis for prejudices, which only leads to unproductive results. We should continue constructive discussions based on reality through substantive cultural and tourism exchanges that prevent prejudices from being formed,” said Nikai, emphasizing Japan’s position to further enhance its contribution to and partnership with ASEAN.

In the closing remarks of the symposium, Ambassador of Brunei Darussalam to Japan Kamilah Hanifah, who is also an ACT chair, commented that the member states of ASEAN have been working closely with one another, and with partners and friends such as Japan to build an inclusive, peaceful and prosperous region.

She also mentioned that stronger partnership with Japan is necessary as ASEAN proceeds to the next level of open regionalism and challenges the rising trend of protectionism in the coming decade.

The symposium marked the final event in a series of celebrations for ASEAN’s 50th anniversary in Japan by AJC that began on Aug. 8, ASEAN’s founding day, last year. It served as an opportunity to reflect on ASEAN’s 50 years development and to reaffirm solid ASEAN-Japan relations for many years to come.

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