ASEAN Policy Speech
“Diversity and Connectivity – Role of Japan as a Partner”
H.E. Mr. Fumio Kishida
Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan
At Chulalongkorn University
1. Opening Remarks
I am Fumio Kishida, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan. I am greatly honored to deliver a speech at Chulalongkorn University renowned for its history and tradition. Let me express my gratitude to the University for extending kind cooperation. I am also truly grateful that many people have gathered here to listen to my speech today.
First of all, I would like to express my heartfelt appreciation for the many kind messages of sympathy that we have received from Thailand and other ASEAN countries, following the great earthquake that hit Kyushu, Japan last month. In particular, let me extend my heartfelt gratitude for the statement issued by the ASEAN foreign ministers. The statement has reminded me of the strong bond between Japan and ASEAN.
My speech today is focusing on ASEAN. ASEAN is at the heart of Asia, straddling the Pacific and Indian Oceans. As a huge market with the population of over 600 million, ASEAN has become the center of both production and consumption, as a driving force of the world economy. Furthermore, its importance is not limited in economy. ASEAN occupies a central role in peace and prosperity in the Asian region, as the core of political frameworks in East Asia, such as the East Asia Summit (EAS) and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). It would not be difficult to imagine how vitally important and valuable it is for Japan to have such partnership with ASEAN.
It was some of the ASEAN countries, namely the Philippines, Singapore and Brunei, that I visited as my first trip abroad upon my assumption of the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan approximately three and a half years ago. I am greatly honored to say that, with this current trip to Thailand and Laos, I will complete my tour to all 10 ASEAN countries, representing a milestone in my diplomacy toward ASEAN, and thus demonstrating the importance that Japan attaches to ASEAN by my actions as Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan. What I would like to state today is that Japan is an indispensable partner of ASEAN in its efforts to express its great potential by making use of its “diversity” and placing importance on “connectivity”.
2. The Japan-ASEAN Relationship in the Past Three and a Half Years
Progress in the Past Three and a Half Years
The Japan-ASEAN relationship has made progress in various respects in the past three and a half years since I took the office of the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan. The year 2013 marked the 40th anniversary of the relationship between Japan and ASEAN. At the commemorative summit held in Tokyo, Japan and ASEAN confirmed that they would strengthen their cooperative relationship as partners for “peace and stability,” “prosperity,” “quality of life” and “heart-to-heart”. Japan also announced a new assistance package for ASEAN community building through Official Development Assistance (ODA) worth 2 trillion yen over five years and for ASEAN integration through the new Japan-ASEAN Integration Fund (JAIF) 2.0 of 100 million dollars.
The economic relationship between Japan and ASEAN has developed significantly over the past three and a half years. Since 2013, ASEAN has been the largest outbound investment destination for Japan in Asia. The number of visitors to Japan from ASEAN countries almost doubled in the past two years alone, from around 1.17 million people in 2013 to around 2.1 million in 2015.
Inaugural Year of the ASEAN Community
As the ASEAN Community was established at the end of last year, the year 2016 marks the memorable inauguration of the Community. Japan has consistently supported ASEAN in its efforts to build and integrate the ASEAN Community, as well as to narrow the development gap within the region. In supporting ASEAN, Japan has placed emphasis on respecting ASEAN’s “diversity”, as well as its fundamental principles such as unity and centrality.
It goes without saying that, if regional peace, stability and prosperity are to be ensured, it is essential that ASEAN maintain and strengthen its unity as the Community, exert its centrality in regional cooperation in East Asia and make use of the “diversity” that it contains politically, economically, culturally and socially.
3. Future Challenges and Japan’s Support
Challenges towards 2025
In order to fulfill ASEAN’s potential while making use of “diversity” and strengthening unity, it is important to enhance “connectivity”. That is exactly what is described in ASEAN Community Vision 2025, which ASEAN itself announced last year on the occasion of the community building as its future guidelines.
To promote the ASEAN integration, it is essential for the Mekong countries, which are rich in potential, to achieve development. What should be done in order to ensure that no country is left behind on the path to growth and that the benefits of growth spread throughout the region? The key is “connectivity”.
Invigorating the flow of goods and people by connecting the region through roads, bridges and railways is indispensable for promoting economic development. Japan’s cooperation is not just building roads and bridges but doing more. Japan will facilitate smooth transportation of goods by improving cross-border customs procedures. It will also create flows of people and goods by developing areas around economic corridors. Make it possible to better utilize improved infrastructure. That is precisely “vibrant and effective” connectivity as I understand it.
The Second Mekong International Bridge, which connects the eastern part of Thailand with Laos, opened in 2006 with support from Japan. It made it possible to transport goods between Bangkok and Hanoi in a minimum of three days by land, whereas previously it took two weeks to do so by sea. Improvement of customs procedures is expected to further facilitate transportation of goods. In the port of Yangon, where a customs system using Japanese technology will be introduced, the time required for simplified customs examination is expected to be reduced from two hours to only less than a minute.
Infrastructure in the Southern Economic Corridor will be further utilized through the development of surrounding areas, including the city of Dawei in Myanmar, which is located at the western exit of the corridor. In addition, the Tsubasa Bridge (The Neak Loeung Bridge), which connects Phnom Penh with Ho Chi Minh City, was opened in April last year, doing away with the need for local people to wait seven or eight hours for ferry service. I am expecting the day when, as a result of these efforts, I can depart from Bangkok eastward in the morning and arrive in Ho Chi Minh City at night and enjoy pho for dinner, or leave westward from Bangkok at noon and reach the Indian Ocean coast to watch the sunset above the sea. I hope that such a day will come as soon as possible.
Human Resource Development
As well as improving infrastructure, developing human resources who will lead industries in individual countries is also important in order to enhance connectivity. Under the Industrial Human Resource Development Cooperation Initiative, which was announced by Prime Minister Abe in November last year, Japan will identify the human resource needs and steadily conduct specific assistance activities in cooperation with Japanese companies and educational institutions.
In Thailand, Thai and Japanese officials from industries, governments and academia gathered at a roundtable conference on human resource development in March this year. At the conference, it was confirmed that the human resources required by Thailand are technicians and engineers who support the manufacturing industry and that it is important to enhance higher education institutions and vocational colleges in order to satisfy the needs. At the moment, we are preparing to enhance cooperation with educational institutions that foster technicians and engineers. Japan will conduct such detailed and concrete human resource development activities in various countries.
Here at Chulalongkorn University, named after the great King who promoted the modernization of Thailand, there is a secretariat office of the ASEAN University Network/Southeast Asia Engineering Education Development Network (SEED-Net), which is a network of leading universities in ASEAN and Japan. An alumnus of SEED-Net who obtained a master’s degree at Chulalongkorn University after graduating from the Institute of Technology of Cambodia went on to acquire a doctor’s degree in Japan, and is now working as a member of an expressway development project in Phnom Penh. As Japan is supporting human resource development in ASEAN, Japan and ASEAN are strongly tied to each other through the human bond. I am sure that building such a human network will further strengthen the connectivity within ASEAN.
Support for the Mekong River Region
We cannot talk about the Mekong region without mentioning Mother Mekong, as the Mekong River is known. The Mekong countries are facing the threat of massive drought. Meanwhile, these countries have also suffered from floods in some years. The Mekong region, despite being blessed with rich nature, cannot escape the impact of extreme natural disasters due to climate change. In order to preserve the environment and ecology in the Mekong River region, Japan will take new actions, including capacity building and sharing of knowledge and experiences.
Creation of a Support Framework to Realize Vibrant and Effective Connectivity
The further improvement and use of infrastructure, improvement of systems, human resource development and support for the Mekong River region that I have mentioned all lead to “vibrant and effective” connectivity. It is countries and people of the Mekong region that bring life to the connectivity. Today, here in Bangkok, I would like to propose the launch of a “Japan-Mekong Connectivity Initiative,” a new framework of cooperation to support voluntary efforts by the Mekong countries. I would like to work with the countries of the Mekong region to create a framework to support efforts by the Mekong countries in a detailed manner, by utilizing Japan’s contribution of 750 billion yen in three years from 2016 toward the Mekong countries. This initiative cannot be realized without cooperation from Thailand as a donor country. I hope that Thailand will work hand-in-hand with Japan to promote this framework.
Connectivity Spreading from Land to Sea
The connectivity that I mentioned earlier is relating to land. For the future development of this region, connectivity in the sea is also important. As I mentioned at the beginning, Southeast Asia straddles the two oceans. The Indian Ocean stretches to the west of the Mekong region. Countries surrounding the Bay of Bengal, including India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, are achieving strong development. The economic relationship between the Mekong region and the Indian Ocean countries is increasingly getting closer. On the other hand, the Pacific Ocean stretches to the east of the Mekong region beyond the South China Sea. Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam are already participants of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). In addition, Japan highly welcomes the interest shown by Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia in participating in it. Japan will provide Vietnam with support to enhance its domestic systems to implement the TPP. Once the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) is concluded, it will cover a region extending from the ASEAN/Mekong region to the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. In order to make the most of opportunities created by such an integrated market and connect these regions more closely, enhancing the connectivity of ASEAN on its land and sea is important. In this respect, Japan spares no effort in providing cooperation to ASEAN.
4. Cooperation in the Region and the International Community
Of course, peace and stability is a prerequisite for such economic prosperity. Without peace and stability, regional prosperity cannot be achieved. In this region, ASEAN and its partners, including Japan, are confronted with a pile of various challenges, including terrorism, extremism and those related to maritime security. We must face up to these challenges and maintain regional order. To that end, we should place our importance on the respect for “diversity”, and its underlying principle of the “rule of law”.
I would like to stress the importance of “diversity” in securing peace and stability in the region. While sharing universal values with ASEAN, such as freedom, democracy and human rights, Japan has consistently respected the differing circumstances of ASEAN countries as well as their “diversity” in terms of religion, ethnicity and belief.
Moderation, an important value for the fight against terrorism, means nothing but tolerance for “diversity”. As symbolized by the terrorist attack in Jakarta in January this year, the threat of terrorism is growing in ASEAN as well. Japan supports the principle of moderation promoted by Malaysia and is implementing projects to counter violent radicalism based on our ideal, by making use of the Japan-ASEAN Integration Fund (JAIF).
“Rule of Law”
It is the “rule of law” that bolsters up the respect for “diversity”. Indeed, “ASEAN Community Vision 2025” states that the ASEAN Political-Security Community, as a rules-based community sharing values and norms, upholds ASEAN fundamental principles, shared values and norms as well as principles of international law.
The area where the principle of the “rule of law” is now most at stake is maritime security. Japan is proclaiming the Three Principles of the Rule of Law at Sea, namely (1) states shall make and clarify their claims based on international law, (2) states shall not use force or coercion in trying to drive their claims and (3) states shall seek to settle disputes by peaceful means. At the G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, which I hosted last month in Hiroshima, my home town, the importance of maintaining maritime order based on the principles of international law was reaffirmed, and strong opposition to attempts to unilaterally change the status quo in the South China Sea was demonstrated. We must establish a regional order whereby the principle of the “rule of law” is truly upheld and practiced. From this perspective, I would like to renew my call for the early conclusion of an effective Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC).
The EAS is the key organization to secure the “rule of law.” At the EAS meeting last year, regional leaders from 18 countries, including Japan and ASEAN, agreed to devote further efforts to political and security issues and strengthen the organization. In order to secure the “rule of law”, we must further enhance the EAS as the premier forum in the region. It goes without saying that promoting regional cooperation with ASEAN in unity at its center is a key to the goal. Japan will fully cooperate for such efforts.
The year 2017 will be the 50th Anniversary of the Founding of ASEAN
The year 2017 will commemorate a milestone, the 50th anniversary of the founding of ASEAN. Japan has walked side by side with ASEAN as its long-time partner for the past more than 40 years. Toward further development of the community in the next half century, Japan, by working hand-in-hand with ASEAN, will continue to extend support in enhancing “connectivity” while respecting “diversity” of ASEAN.
Six countries from the Asia-Pacific region, including Laos, the incumbent ASEAN chair, will participate in the G7 Ise-Shima Summit this year. We are also expecting the ASEAN-related Foreign Ministers’ Meetings in July and the ASEAN-related Summit Meetings in September. On the occasion of this trip, which completes my visit to all of the 10 ASEAN countries, I have renewed my resolve to further deepen Japan’s cooperation with ASEAN in my capacity as Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan as we work toward diplomatic events with ASEAN.
5. Japan-Thailand Relationship
Bangkok is ASEAN’s Place of Origin
It was here in Bangkok that ASEAN was founded in August 1967. The Bangkok Declaration, a joint declaration issued by the foreign ministers of five countries including Thailand, was the founding document of ASEAN. H.E. Dr. Thanat Khoman, who was the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand at that time, passed away in March this year, soon after the establishment of the ASEAN Community as if he saw through the launch of the Community. I would like to pay my deepest respects to his achievements and renew my heartfelt condolences.
Thailand has achieved the greatest industrial integration within the ASEAN region while maintaining a policy favorable to foreign investment against the backdrop of the relatively stable domestic situation. Thailand, which has become a production and export base as part of the global supply chain of the Japanese economy, is now an indispensable economic partner for Japan.
About 4,500 Japanese companies are operating in Thailand, one of the largest numbers in the Asia-Pacific region. Many Japanese companies have now taken indispensable parts in the economy in Thailand through their investment and human resource development for many years.
Thailand is a donor country that has been supporting the neighboring countries for many years in order to narrow the development gap within the region, a task essential to the ASEAN integration. Japan has high expectations for further efforts by Thailand as a major partner in Japan’s support for the Mekong region and also as a partner in promotion of the proposed Japan-Mekong Connectivity Initiative, which I mentioned earlier.
Prime Minister Prayut is currently resolutely dealing with various domestic challenges, including the return to rule by a civilian government. In a series of his summit meetings with Prime Minister Abe, Prime Minister Prayut emphasized that a sustainable democracy is necessary for Thailand. I strongly hope that people of Thailand will overcome the current difficult challenges and play a more active role in the region and the international community.
Thank you very much for your kind attention. Khop Khun Maak Khrap.