• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Wednesday vowed to strengthen Japan's cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in realizing a free and open Indo-Pacific region in response to China's assertive territorial claims and military buildup.

The Japan-ASEAN summit, held virtually amid the COVID-19 pandemic, was the first occasion for Kishida to participate in an ASEAN gathering after replacing Yoshihide Suga as prime minister earlier this month.

Noting his past efforts to enhance Japan's ties with ASEAN during his tenure as foreign minister between 2012 and 2017, Kishida said he continues to value the relationship with the 10-member bloc.

"This time, as prime minister, I will work closely with ASEAN and strongly promote efforts toward realizing a free and open Indo-Pacific," said Kishida.

He also said Japan will steadily promote cooperation for the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, an initiative aimed at maintaining peace, freedom and prosperity in the region, which shares the same values as Japan's vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific.

As 2023 marks the 50th year of ASEAN-Japan friendship and cooperation, Kishida said Japan plans to hold a special summit at that time to take the relationship to a "new stage."

Kishida and ASEAN leaders exchanged views on the situation in the East and South China seas, where China is increasing its assertiveness, as well as North Korea and Myanmar.

Kishida was quoted by the Foreign Ministry as telling his ASEAN peers that Japan shares the group's deep concern about any moves challenging the rules-based maritime order in the region and strongly opposes such acts, in a veiled criticism of Beijing.

He also said North Korea is threatening the peace and security of the region and the international community by launching ballistic missiles, while asking members for their help in resolving North Korea's past abductions of Japanese nationals, to which members expressed support.

The prime minister said Japan supports ASEAN's actions in response to the Myanmar coup in February, including a five-point consensus calling for an immediate cessation of violence and a visit by the ASEAN special envoy for a peaceful settlement of the crisis. Kishida urged Myanmar's military leaders to respond constructively.

In their annual summit on Tuesday, the ASEAN leaders voiced concern about Myanmar, an ASEAN member state, and explored a balanced approach for addressing the political turmoil in the country. The summit was held without a representative from Myanmar as its military leader was excluded by the group.

ASEAN consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Kishida attended the Japan-ASEAN summit amid campaigning for the House of Representatives election on Sunday. The new prime minister quickly dissolved the Lower House after assuming his post, as the terms of house members were set to expire.

Kishida is also considering attending in person the leaders' session of U.N. climate change talks in Glasgow, Scotland, in early November after the general election.

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