December 15, 2023
SINGAPORE – Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is among nine Asean leaders who will gather in Tokyo at the weekend to celebrate a half-century of Asean-Japan ties.
The three-day event, starting on Dec 16, will culminate in a joint statement that sets out a “new vision for the future”, as well as a plan spelling out the steps for a wide range of cooperation, Japan’s Foreign Ministry said.
Among other things, Japan and Asean are likely to deepen their cooperation in areas such as supply chains, artificial intelligence and maritime capacity-building.
The commemorative summit comes as Japan and Asean mark 50 years of friendship and cooperation, having also upgraded their relationship to the highest-tier Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in September.
Singapore’s Prime Minister’s Office said on Dec 14 that Japan and Asean will discuss ways to deepen and broaden their dialogue partnership, including in such areas as the digital and green economies.
Leaders will also discuss “regional and global issues of mutual concern”, the statement added.
PM Lee, who arrives in Tokyo on Dec 15, will meet Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for what will be their fifth bilateral summit in two years.
During his four-day visit ending Dec 18, he will be accompanied by Mrs Lee – who will take part in a Spouse Programme hosted by Mr Kishida’s wife Yuko – as well as Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.
Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean will be Acting Prime Minister in his absence.
Leaders will attend a dinner hosted by Mr and Mrs Kishida on Dec 16, before the commemorative summit on Dec 17.
On Dec 18, they will attend a meeting of the Asia Zero Emission Community, a framework launched by Japan to promote decarbonisation across Asia by tailoring energy transition measures to each country’s circumstances.
Relations between Asean and Japan have come a long way since 1973, when distrust towards Tokyo was rife. Memories of wartime aggression were still raw, while Japan’s synthetic rubber exports posed a grave threat to Asean’s natural rubber produce.
Both sides sought to soothe tensions by establishing dialogue channels, first through a synthetic rubber forum in 1973. This set the stage for the Fukuda Doctrine four years later, promulgated by then Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda.
The doctrine spelt out three tenets that would serve as Japan’s lodestar for its ties with Asean: It would never be a military power, it would establish “heart-to-heart” relations with Asean, and it would forge an equal partnership with Asean.
Today, Japan consistently ranks as Asean’s “most trusted” partner in the annual State of South-east Asia survey by Singapore’s ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.
Economic ties are also strong. In 2022, Japan was Asean’s fourth-largest trading partner and second-largest source of foreign direct investment.
Asean comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Myanmar, which has been under military rule since a coup against the civilian government in 2021, was not invited.
Timor-Leste will join as an observer, with Asean having agreed “in principle” in 2022 to admit the country as its 11th member.