Keynote Speech at the Symposium to Commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Friendship and Cooperation between Japan and ASEAN


Good afternoon, everyone. It is my great pleasure to have some remarks at the beginning of today’s sympodium. As the title of the symposium indicated, 2023 is a milestone year that marks the 50th anniversary of friendship and cooperation between Japan and ASEAN. It is an important year in which we reflect on the past 50 years and consider what we should do for future generations to ensure peace and prosperity in Japan and ASEAN for the next 50 years.

This symposium provides, I think, a perfect opportunity for reflection. I would like first of all to express my appreciation to Dr. Kao Kim Hourn, Secretary-General of ASEAN, and all the experts who accepted an invitation to take part in the panel discussion today.

Prior to this panel discussion, I would like to provide some background information by looking back on the relationships between ASEAN, Japan and JICA over the past 50 years and talk a bit about changes in the circumstances that surround Japan and ASEAN. And also I would like to touch upon the direction JICA aims to head in when building new relationships with ASEAN.

As many of you know, ASEAN was initially established in 1967 as a consultative body of five countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. Japan-ASEAN relations began in 1973 when the two parties resolved the friction over the export of synthetic rubber by Japan through ministerial meetings. So, it’s interesting that ASEAN-Japan relation started with trouble shooting.

And then also, it may be worthwhile to remember that ASEAN Japan relations in the early 1970’s was not so happy one. In 1974, Japanese Prime Minister, Mr. Tanaka Kakuei went to Indonesia and Thailand, and he was welcomed by very, very large-scale anti-Japanese demonstrations.
There was criticism and anger, even, anger toward Japanese attitude and mistrust was everywhere in Southeast Asia. So, in order to rectify this deplorable situation, I think all parties made their efforts to improve relations.

One of the important efforts is that 1977’s Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda’s speech at Manila which is later to be labeled as Fukuda Doctrine speech. And he set up three principles: first, Japan rejects the role of a military power. It wouldn’t become a military power. Second, Japan will strengthen "heart-to-heart" relationships of mutual confidence and trust with Southeast Asian countries. And third, Japan will be an equal partner of ASEAN and its member countries.

In the subsequent decade, in 1981, when Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki visited ASEAN countries, he proposed that Japan cooperates in establishing ASEAN Human Resources Development Centers. These centers served as Japan’s pioneering project to support human resources development and promoted active exchange among people from ASEAN and Japan. They laid the foundation for today’s friendly relationship between Japan and ASEAN, I think.

Later, Japan-ASEAN relationships underwent major changes following what’s called the Plaza Accord of 1985. Backed by a high yen value, Japanese cooperations expanded their investments and businesses in Southeast Asian countries. In parallel, the Japanese government cooperated in developing economic and social infrastructure through its ODA, thus contributing to the development of ASEAN countries.

In the following, I would like to touch upon some examples of JICA’s cooperation in infrastructure and human resources development in this period. Incidentally, I use JICA as the current JICA and its predecessor’s organizations. Formally, JICA, the organization called Japan International Cooperation Agency, was established formally in 1974, but I would like to mention many things even before that.

And then at the time 1974 when JICA was established, major portion of JAPAN’s ODA concessional loan, YEN loan, was handled by an organization called Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund, OECF. But those organizations were combined into one in 2008 to become the current JICA. So, in the following, when I say “JICA”, it means all the organizations later to be combined as JICA.

One of JICA’s foremost projects is the Brantas River Basin development projects in Indonesia, which began in 1961 and continue even today. The projects used Japanese ODA to develop multipurpose dams, irrigation facilities, and other structures in the Brantas river basin which had often been damaged by floods. As a result of this project, the Brantas river basin became a major rice-producing district in Indonesia, and it became the drive force behind the country’s achievement of rice self-sufficiency in 1984.

Another example is the Eastern Seaboard Development Program in Thailand, which started in 1982. JICA provided comprehensive support from planning to infrastructure development through 16 projects covering the development of ports, railways, water sources, roads, and industrial complexes. The waterfront has since developed into Thailand’s second-largest economic zone and industrial district after greater Bangkok area. The automobile industry, including Japanese-affiliated businesses, has concentrated there.

The third example is an example of human resources development. Typical is the support for what is called the “Look East Policy” advocated by then-Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir in 1981. Up to now, over 26,000 Malaysian participants have studied in Japan or have taken part in vocational training through programs supported by JICA. About 60% of current Malaysian government officials of vice-minister class have participated in some of these training programs. The human connections established through the “Look East Policy” programs are precious assets for relationship between Japan and Malaysia, and between Japan and the larger ASEAN region.

As you know, in the early 1990s, the Cold War structure collapsed, signifying a major turning point in contemporary history. In Southeast Asia, the comprehensive Cambodian peace agreement was reached in 1991 to bring peace to Cambodia and the former Indochina region. From 1995 to 1999, four countries in the Mekong region - Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia - joined ASEAN successively. This developed ASEAN into a regional community that covers the entire Southeast Asian region.

In the 1990s, following the Cambodian peace agreement, JICA resumed full-fledged cooperation projects for three continental Southeast Asia countries: Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. JICA provided cooperation in various infrastructure development projects. Examples include roads, bridges, ports as typified by the Sihanoukville port in Cambodia; power plants, medical institutions as exemplified by the Cho Ray hospital in Vietnam; and urban water supply services in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and Vientiane, Laos.

In addition, JICA engaged in “intellectual cooperation” with countries in the region. One example of such intellectual cooperation was what is called “Ishikawa Project” in Vietnam. This project is named after late professor Shigeru Ishikawa, professor emeritus of Hitotsubashi University and was participated by many, many Japanese experts to conduct joint study on how to formulate economic policy after the era of a communist ruled economy.

Another example is legal and judicial development cooperation to these countries, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. This project includes support for the drafting of a civil code and development of legal professionals. One common characteristics of these intellectual cooperation was joint research, which I believe offers a lot of insight as to the way of cooperation JICA should aim for in the future. In a word, we often use these words nowadays co-creation of knowledge though shared dialogue and interaction.

JICA also supported peace and stability in the region. In the Philippines, following the ceasefire agreement in Mindanao in 2003, we started substantial peace building support. In 2008, peace negotiations collapsed sometime. But then JICA’s President Sadako Ogata strong urged that JICA should not withdraw. And so, we stayed in Mindanao. In 2011, the Japanese government sponsored a then secret summit meeting in Narita between President Aquino of the Philippines and Chairman Murad of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. And this secret meeting was realized because both the government of Philippines and MILF had strong trust in Japan’s reliability.

And this meeting led to the signing of a historic comprehensive peace agreement between the two parties in 2014. As JICA’s president at that time, I assumed the current position for the first time in 2012, this engagement in Mindanao was one of my first missions. And so I had the honor of visiting MILF headquarters and also the honor of witnessing the signing of peace agreement.

When I visited Mindanao in January this year, the parliament of transition authority of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region adopted a resolution to thank JICA for its longstanding cooperation, which was I think an extreme honor for us.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, economic development in ASEAN countries as well as the establishment of ASEAN Community and the deepening of its integration had been really, really remarkable.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, ASEAN countries achieved striking economic growth, more than doubling their nominal GDP over 10 years, and came to be known as “growth center of the world.” Of course, in 2020, because of the pandemic, ASEAN member states saw negative growth, except for Vietnam, but since then, they have shown vigorous recovery from the recession.

Politically, these countries established the ASEAN Community. ASEAN countries declared the establishment of the ASEAN Community in 2003, and they adopted the ASEAN Charter in 2007. At the end of 2015, ASEAN deepened integration among its member states by launching the ASEAN Community, which consisted of the Political-Security Community, the Economic Community, and the Socio-Cultural Community.

Due to the economic development of ASEAN countries, the establishment of the ASEAN Community and deepening of integration among its members, and the emergence of ASEAN as an important player in the international community, the relationships between Japan and ASEAN are undergoing considerable changes. ASEAN countries are becoming even more important to Japan, as peace and prosperity in ASEAN leads directly to peace and prosperity in the entire East Asian region, including Japan. JICA will extend its support to strengthen the ASEAN Community and its Secretariat.

Today, when we direct our eyes to the world, we find ourselves in the midst of a series of “compound crises”. These compound crises involve, in my understanding, three layers of crises: the outermost layer is the physical system, as typified by climate change and natural disasters; within that outermost layer is what is called the living system, as exemplified by infectious diseases and ecological disasters; and innermost layer is the social system, where there are issues of armed conflicts and geopolitics as well as many economic and social crises.

Up to now, traditional international relations studies and international relations policy-making are conducted only as a matter of social systems. But we lay down nature of compound crises. We are now facing compound crises not just from social systems but interactions of physical system, living system and social systems. So, unless we take the interaction of social, living physical system into consideration, we cannot focus on the cracks of the issue. I believe that all humankind - including conflicting parties – must work together to build a system of cooperation to address these compound crises. As a social system issues, there may be competitions. But if you consider human beings as a whole, we need to tackle challenges coming from the interactions of these physical, living, and social systems.

In this context, Japan has been promoting a new rules-based order from Asia to Africa under the vision of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific. In response, ASEAN has developed the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific. Japan will continue to contribute to the development of the Indo-Pacific region together with ASEAN and its member states, which are located at the center of the Indo-Pacific region.

JICA will cooperate with the ASEAN and its members as equal and increasingly more important partners in order to solve global issues. We have already started to collaborate with the ASEAN Secretariat as well as Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and others to address regional, extra-regional, and even global development issues. We will further expand this collaboration in the years to come. One characteristic of JICA’s past technical cooperation, including training programs, has been that participants from Japan and ASEAN countries learn each other’s strong points and jointly create knowledge through dialogue and interaction. In the future, JICA will further promote this type of interactive and collaborative programs.

Moreover, it is necessary to advance cooperation and exchange between Japan and ASEAN countries in a more multilayered way through various channels in the public and private sectors. Even today, JICA owes much of its activities to the support of our partners in industry, government, and academia. From now on, JICA will consider how we can support such partners’ activities that contribute to the development and stability of ASEAN region. We will keep in mind JICA’s function as a facilitator for cooperation and exchange activities in the region.

Finally, I would like to reflect on the words of the Fukuda Doctrine again. According to Mr. Fukuda, “Japan will strengthen "heart-to-heart" relationships of mutual confidence and trust with Southeast Asian countries,” and “Japan will be an equal partner of ASEAN and its member countries.” When the doctrine was announced in 1977, these words meant to us as the guidelines to follow particularly in the aftermath of process of mistrust and distrust. Today, however, I may be bit native, but I am convinced by my experiences that these words, announced 46 years ago, become reality. When I look back on the past 50 years of JICA’s cooperation, through its financial aid, technical cooperation, and volunteer programs. We aimed at and have achieved is the really people-to-people, heart-to-heart bondage that truly cultivated trust between ASEAN and Japan. That’s what Fukuda Doctrine meant to promote. In order to continue to be a reliable and important partner, Japan must continue to learn from developing ASEAN countries and hold in-depth dialogues to advance together.

The next 50 years belong to the young generation. I would like to conclude my speech by expressing my hope that through this symposium you will take home with you the visions and insights for action that will enable people of Japan and ASEAN, including yourself, to work hand in hand to open up a bright future, to face the world together, and to solve global issues. Thank you very much.

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