Just weeks after Japan's election, new prime minister Shinzo Abe and his finance and foreign ministers have already traveled to seven of the ten ASEAN countries. Why is Tokyo paying so much attention to Southeast Asia? Media reports have highlighted Japan's deteriorating relations with China over territorial disputes as the main reason for its ASEAN embrace.
In fact, the rationale is much broader. ASEAN and Japan are celebrating the 40th anniversary of their enduring relationship this year. The rich symbolism that often accompanies ASEAN anniversaries with its dialogue partners, along with converging interests, have led the two to cement ties. Tokyo needs markets to get out of its fourth recession since 2000, while ASEAN wants partners to help it build a more economically integrated region. The two are also facing common security challenges, from natural disasters to cyberwarfare to the rise of China.
During his trip to Indonesia, Abe unveiled the five principles that would govern Japan's approach to ASEAN. They included promoting democracy and human rights, enhancing economic ties, ensuring freedom of navigation and maritime security, strengthening youth exchanges and protecting Asia's rich culture.
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