Japan-ASEAN Relations

September 7, 2016 Vientiane, Laos

September 7, 2016
Chairman Oudet,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honor to have the opportunity today to speak to members of the business community who are driving the economies of Laos and ASEAN.

In December 1965, five members of the very first corps of Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers headed to Laos.  One of those members, Ms. Masako Hoshino, taught the Japanese language here.  Her students were highly aspirational, with broad personal networks and opportunities for interaction. The members of her Laotian host family supported each other equally, regardless of gender. She felt very keenly that Japan also had many things to learn from Laos. Even after finishing her mission as a member of the Volunteers, she remained in Laos for some time.

More than 50 years have passed since then, and Japan has now dispatched some 40 thousand JOCVs to 88 countries around the world.  At this very moment, there are Japanese all around the world living amongst the local community and putting their heads together with local people as they continue to carry forward this cooperation.

For more than 55 years, Japan has been cultivating human resources for industry all throughout the world, centered on ASEAN.  We have fostered 380 thousand such workers in total, of which half have been in the countries of ASEAN.

In Thailand, enterprising individuals who received training in Japan's manufacturing techniques established a school for teaching the same content to fellow Thais.  When I visited the school, the Thai-Nichi Institute of Technology, in January 2013, I planted a jackfruit tree there as a symbol of prosperity.  

Just as the tree I planted will grow and continue to bear fruit in the future, Japan's cooperation does not end with a single interaction. Instead, the circle of cooperation grows wider and wider.

Last year, in Kuala Lumpur, I pledged that we would establish new academic courses to foster human resources for industry at approximately 20 universities in ASEAN with the cooperation of Japanese companies.

We are steadily fulfilling this pledge in Laos as well. Laos is like a land bridge that connects different countries. Through cooperation with the National University of Laos and Savannakhet University, next spring we will launch courses in which local students will learn about the logistics employed by Japanese companies.

But we want this to go beyond simply acquiring the know-how behind meticulous logistics.  Instead, by thinking together, we want students to become equipped with the power of building up "kaizen" in their respective workplaces.  That is the wish behind these courses.

We would like the people who have studied here to use their experience to immediate effect in Japanese companies that have logistics hubs in Laos. We hope they will come to manage local subsidiaries in future. Moreover, we wish them to become leaders driving Laos' industrial development.

Laos can not only develop through the coming and going of neighboring countries' goods, but can also take a further leap forward by increasing value-added and exporting goods "made in Laos".

Let us consider Laos' ancient capital, Luang Prabang.  A World Cultural Heritage Site, which a large number of tourists visit every year. The morning market in Phousi boasts arrays of freshly picked vegetables and fruit sourced from right nearby.  Is there no way to deliver this produce, fresh, across the ASEAN market, with its 600 million people?

What will bring this about, in addition to human resources, is transportation infrastructure connecting producing regions with markets, along with enhanced transparency and facilitation of trade procedures.

Here, there are great hopes for the AEC-the ASEAN Economic Community.  In addition to eliminating tariffs, progress is underway in transitioning to a "single window" for customs clearance procedures.  

The next issue to tackle is expanding the efforts of the AEC to deal with reforms of various domestic regulations. I call on ERIA to quantify the trade restricting effects of specific types of non-tariff measures and pinpoint priority issues.

At the G20 Hangzhou Summit, leaders agreed to avoid protectionism and promote free and open trade to achieve sustainable growth, even as the global economic outlook grows less clear.

Japan will expand the sphere of free and fair economies globally. We are determined to take strong leadership to achieve this.

The TPP in particular is key to our growth strategy. The TPP was agreed after clearing political hurdles. We must not allow it to come to a standstill. Securing domestic approval as early as possible will give momentum to early entry into force. Japan will dedicate its greatest possible effort to this issue.

The TPP will not divide ASEAN. It is a framework that allows for participation as each country becomes prepared to do so. Japan will support ASEAN countries wishing to participate in the TPP so that they can bring their plans to fruition.  
At the same time, we will push forward resolutely with RCEP as well, to achieve a high-quality agreement.

Japan has learned many things in the course of its history of cooperation with ASEAN, leading to its current form.  I believe there are two central themes that serve as a model for Japan's overseas cooperation.

The first is "Open and Inclusive Cooperation." Beyond just Japan and ASEAN, the whole world can participate and benefit. Take, for example, Myanmar's Thilawa Special Economic Zone. This project can rightfully be called the symbol of Japan-Myanmar cooperation.  Japanese companies make up only about half of the Zone's tenant companies, and a sizeable number of businesses from non-ASEAN countries have also set up shop there.

The second is "Cooperation that Values Individuals."  We want to enhance the well-being of the people in our partner countries.  That is precisely why we place importance on not only government but also business exchanges.  Japanese companies' work has a meticulous focus on quality and places great value on individuals.  By listening to voices from ASEAN's local companies and consumers, and by taking a long-term view, companies become firmly rooted in local communities.  They think together, and walk together, with ASEAN.

Japan aims at cooperation through which the people of ASEAN can lead more prosperous daily lives.

Let us walk together towards a future when, across ASEAN, fresh produce from Laos and all its other members comes and goes freely without question.

When investment from Japan and across the world increases even further, and ASEAN continues its economic development.

Ladies and gentlemen, let us walk together towards such a future. Thank you very much.

Back to Japan-ASEAN Relations