October 11, 2023
TOKYO – Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa’s tour of four Southeast Asian countries is aimed at strengthening cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations members — with China in mind —while laying the groundwork for an ASEAN special summit to be held in Tokyo in December.
Following a stopover in Brunei, Kamikawa is scheduled to visit Vietnam, Laos and Thailand through Friday.
“[The ASEAN special summit] is a key opportunity to jointly forge the future direction of Japan-ASEAN relations and a new cooperative vision,” Kamikawa said Sunday, while hinting that she views her present tour as final stage of preparations for the December summit.
ASEAN-Japan cooperation is thought to have originated with a ministerial meeting on natural rubber exports in 1973 — this year thus marks the 50th anniversary of such friendship and cooperation. During this period, Japan has forged strong relations with the organization, but in recent years, some member countries have been noticeably closer to China and Russia.
Laos, in particular, is noticeably dependent on Beijing on the economic front, as evidenced by the opening in 2021 of a high-speed railroad — a key project in China’s Belt and Road Initiative to create a huge economic zone — and has also been working more closely with Russia on the military front.
With Laos set to hold the ASEAN chair next year, Kamikawa’s visit is intended to dissuade Vientiane from leaning too heavily on China and Russia.
Thailand, too, has been deepening cooperation with China since the government took over following a military coup in 2014. With a new administration having been inaugurated in September this year, Japan’s first task is to build a relationship of trust.
Meanwhile, Brunei and Vietnam are at odds with China over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Japan and Brunei have long maintained friendly relations through the import and export of liquefied natural gas. Japan and Vietnam will agree to strengthen cooperation with a view to upgrading their bond to a broad strategic partnership.
The Japanese government hopes to use Kamikawa’s 4-stop tour and the special summit as an opportunity to promote its role as a “bridge” between ASEAN and the Group of Seven advanced nations.