Partnership between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Japan must be enhanced far beyond economic means in anticipation of the ASEAN Community, set to be effective in 2015, when the region is expected to play a more determinant role in global security, say analysts.
“Over the last three decades, ASEAN-Japan cooperation has been driven primarily by economic cooperation. It now should go beyond that to become more comprehensive,” Rizal Sukma, the executive director of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), told a seminar on Tuesday.
According to Rizal, ASEAN’s unity was strategic in the context of ASEAN-Japan cooperation as well as for the international community. “ASEAN’s unity is needed to sustain its centrality in the common effort to maintain rule-based order in the region,” he said.
Some areas should be given priority, both by ASEAN and the Japanese government in the next 15 years, such as democracy and human rights; maritime security; defense; and peacekeeping.
Yoshihide Soeya of Japan’s Keio University, another presenter at the seminar, shared Rizal’s view. “From Japan’s point of view, ASEAN’s solidarity has been increasingly important. Previously, Japan was an outsider to Southeast Asia but today we are an insider. Japan is economically part of [the region] although politically not quite yet,” he said.
Carolina Hernandez of the University of the Philippines and Institute for Strategic and Development Studies (ISDS), Philippines, said that security and stability in the ASEAN-Japan context must not be understood only in terms of defense and military.
“The way ASEAN and Japan understand the meaning of security should be more comprehensive, such as through political forums, diplomatic and cultural events, as well as environmental cooperation,” she said.
Yoshihide shunned questions from seminar participants about whether Japan’s intention in bolstering relations with ASEAN also included geo-political goals such as countering central powers of China and the US.
Japan and China have a long and complicated relationship history. In recent times, the two countries have been involved in a series of tensions related to the maritime dispute in the East China Sea.
Many have seen that good cooperation with ASEAN is very strategic for Japan, not only because of the two’s geographical location, which puts China in between, but also because some ASEAN member states have territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea.
“We are not doing [ASEAN-Japan partnership] because of China or the US. We are doing this for ourselves, to strengthen our region,” Yoshihide said.
The seminar on ASEAN-Japan Strategic Partnership in Southeast Asia and Regional Community Building was organized by the CSIS and the Japan Center for International Exchange (JCIE), supported by the Japan-ASEAN Integration Fund (JAIF).
The seminar was part of the CSIS-JCIE’s two-year project, launched in 2012 and aimed at studying the role and contributions of ASEAN-Japan Partnership in promoting regional community-building in Southeast Asia and East Asia as well as in contributing to global governance. The goal of the project is to encourage efforts to achieve greater ASEAN integration with an eye toward 2015, as well as to identify a vision for the ASEAN-Japan relationship from 2015 to 2030.
The project, which has also been supported by the Foreign Ministry’s directorate general for ASEAN Cooperation, is supervised by Jusuf Wanandi, one of CSIS’ co-founders who is now also the vice chairman of the organization’s board of trustees; and Hitoshi Tanaka, the chairman for international strategy at the Japan Research Institute.
“ASEAN is fundamental to the stability and peace in the context of East Asia and the world,” said Rizal, who was also one of the project’s coordinators.
Bagus BT Saragih
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