Diplomatic Bluebook 2022

Chapter 2

Japan's Foreign Policy by Region

7 Regional and Inter-Regional Cooperation

In the Indo-Pacific region, the world's growth center, it is important to ensure peace and prosperity for the entire region, and by extension for the world, by realizing a free and open order based on the rule of law. From this perspective, Japan strategically advances initiatives toward realizing a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP)” through various regional cooperative frameworks, including cooperation with like-minded countries such as Australia, India, ASEAN countries, and Europe, Japan-ASEAN, Japan-Mekong cooperation, ASEAN Plus Three (Japan, China and the Republic of Korea (ROK)), East Asia Summit (EAS), ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), while maintaining the Japan-U.S. Alliance as the cornerstone of its foreign policy. In particular, the “ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP),” which was adopted by ASEAN in 2019, shares fundamental principles with FOIP, such as the rule of law, freedom and openness. While respecting the centrality and unity of ASEAN, Japan will further expand the support of the international community for AOIP, and intends to implement concrete ASEAN-Japan cooperation that contributes to the principles of AOIP, and, as an “Indo-Pacific State,” contribute to the stability and prosperity of the entire Indo-Pacific region.

(1) The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

Located in the center of the vast Indo-Pacific, ASEAN is key to the realization of a FOIP. At the ASEAN-related Summit Meetings held in November 2015, it was declared that the three councils of the “ASEAN Political-Security Community Council,” the “ASEAN Economic Community Council” and the “ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community Council” would be established within 2015 (2015 Kuala Lumpur Declaration on the Establishment of the ASEAN Community). Also, “ASEAN2025: Forging Ahead Together” was adopted as a guiding policy for the ASEAN Community for the 10 years from 2016 to 2025. In June 2019, the AOIP was adopted.

In East Asia where ASEAN plays an important role as a center of regional cooperation, multi-layered regional cooperation, such as ASEAN Plus Three (Japan, China and the ROK), EAS and ARF, is operating with ASEAN at its center, and cooperative relationships in a wide range of areas including politics, security and the economy have been established.

On the economic front, ASEAN has concluded the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) as well as other EPAs and FTAs with various countries including Japan, China, the ROK and India, thereby expanding the ASEAN centered free trade zone. In November 2020, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement was signed by 15 countries, including Japan and 10 ASEAN countries, and it entered into force on January 1, 2022. While working closely with participating countries to ensure the full implementation of the RCEP Agreement, Japan will continue to play a leading role for the future participation of India in the Agreement, as India declined signing.

(2) Issue of the South China Sea

The issue with regard to the South China Sea is directly related to the peace and stability of the region and is a legitimate concern of the international community. As a stakeholder that makes use of the South China Sea, the issue is also an important matter of interest for Japan, which depends on sea transport for most of its resources and energy.

China has continued and strengthened its actions to unilaterally change the status quo and increase regional tensions against the rule of law and openness, such as with further militarization of disputed features (see Chapter 3, Section 1, 3 (4)). Furthermore, China has not changed its position of not accepting the Arbitral Tribunal's award27 to the Philippines and China, and has continued to assert maritime claims that are inconsistent with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The international community, including Japan, has expressed serious concerns about China's unilateral attempts to change the status quo and render them faits accomplis. Japan also strongly opposes unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force or coercion and from the standpoint that the three principles of the rule of law at sea should be consistently adhered (see Chapter 3, Section 1, 6 (2)), has also consistently emphasized the importance of all the concerned parties related to the South China Sea to work toward peaceful settlement of disputes based on international law, in particular UNCLOS. Additionally, Japan has pointed out that China's assertions regarding baselines in the South China Sea are not based on relevant provisions of UNCLOS and that it is important to protect the freedom of navigation and overflight, including in the sea and airspace surrounding and above maritime features found to be low-tide elevations that do not have territorial sea and territorial airspace of their own according to the award of the Arbitral Tribunal. Japan has also pointed out that the basis of the “historical rights” claimed by China is not clear under international law, and the Arbitral Tribunal ruled that the “historical rights” based on the “nine-dash line” claimed by China were found to be contrary to UNCLOS and were clearly denied. In July 2021, which marked five years since the Arbitral Tribunal's award as to the disputes between the Philippines and China, Foreign Minister Motegi issued a statement reiterating Japan's position on the importance of the rule of law and on the principle of peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law.

In 2018, negotiations on the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea commenced between China and ASEAN. Japan considers that the COC should be effective, substantive, consistent with UNCLOS and respect the legitimate rights and interests of all stakeholders who use the South China Sea, and has advocated for the importance of such efforts leading to demilitarization of the area and to the realization of a peaceful, open South China Sea.

  • 27 In January 2013, the Government of the Philippines instituted arbitral proceedings under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as to the disputes between the Philippines and China regarding the South China Sea. The Arbitral Tribunal organized by these proceedings rendered the final award on July 12, 2016. Japan issued a statement by the Foreign Minister on the same day, stating, “As the Tribunal's award is final and legally binding on the parties to the dispute under the provisions of UNCLOS, the parties to this case are required to comply with the award. Japan strongly hopes that the parties' compliance with the award will eventually lead to the peaceful settlement of disputes in the South China Sea.”

(3) Japan-ASEAN Relations

ASEAN is key to the realization of a FOIP, and realizing a more stable and prosperous ASEAN is absolutely essential to the stability and prosperity of the region as a whole. Based on this recognition, Japan is actively supporting ASEAN's efforts in accordance with “ASEAN Community Vision 2025” for further integration even after the establishment of the ASEAN Community, while steadily implementing the “Vision Statement on ASEAN-Japan Friendship and Cooperation” and the “Joint Statement of the ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit” that were both adopted at the ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit Meeting held in Tokyo in 2013. Based on the “Joint Statement of the 23rd ASEAN-Japan Summit on Cooperation on ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific” that was adopted in November 2020 at the 23rd ASEAN-Japan Summit Meeting, Japan is embodying cooperation with ASEAN in line with the AOIP's priority areas of maritime cooperation, connectivity, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and economic and other possible areas of cooperation. The Statement was the first joint statement on AOIP adopted by ASEAN with external partners, and has been followed by similar joint statements between ASEAN and other dialogue partners.

In 2021, Japan demonstrated that it was strongly promoting efforts toward the realization of both FOIP and AOIP, including the ASEAN-Japan Foreign Ministers Meeting in August and the 24th ASEAN-Japan Summit Meeting in October, under the chairmanship of Brunei. Furthermore, 2023 is the 50th Year of ASEAN-Japan Friendship and Cooperation, and Japan has expressed its intention to hold a Commemorative Summit Meeting in Japan and to raise ASEAN-Japan relations to a new stage, and it was welcomed by the ASEAN side.

At the 24th ASEAN-Japan Summit Meeting, Prime Minister Kishida introduced Japan's assistance to ASEAN to counter COVID-19 as follows: (1) Provision of more than 16 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, a cumulative total of approximately 32 billion Japanese yen worth of grant aid which included development of cold chain system, etc., under “Last One Mile Support” and approximately 195 billion Japanese yen worth of financial assistance in near-interest-free yen loans, and (2) Japan intends to fully support the ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases (ACPHEED), which was declared to be officially established at the 23rd ASEAN-Japan Summit Meeting in 2020.

As for ASEAN-Japan cooperation, he expressed Japan's strong and consistent support for ASEAN centrality and unity, and stated that Japan has been advancing concrete cooperation in line with the AOIP priority areas based on the ASEAN-Japan Joint Statement on AOIP Cooperation, and introduced the Progress Report on a total of 73 projects which included 49 cooperation projects announced at the 2020 Summit as well as 24 additional projects.

Regarding climate change, the “ASEAN-Japan Climate Change Action Agenda 2.0” was published, and it was announced that Japan would promote cooperation with ASEAN countries toward the realization of carbon neutrality. In addition, Prime Minister Kishida said that Japan will provide comprehensive support to ASEAN countries through the formulation of roadmaps for energy transition, technical cooperation, and human resource development, including those under the Asia Energy Transition Initiative (AETI).

In terms of post-COVID-19 cooperation, he indicated his intention to enhance cooperation in a wide range of areas, which will contribute to achieving the SDGs, including climate change, clean energy, healthcare such as universal health coverage (UHC) and disaster prevention, as well as areas including digital transformation, quality infrastructure investment, and supply chain resilience.

ASEAN countries expressed their high evaluation and appreciation for Japan's leadership to counter COVID-19, and they expressed their high evaluations of and strong hope for Japan's continued close cooperation on the AOIP.

For regional and international affairs, with regard to North Korea, Prime Minister Kishida asked for continued understanding and cooperation of each country toward the immediate resolution of the abductions issue, and ASEAN countries expressed their support. He also clarified Japan's position on the South China Sea issue and on the situation in Myanmar.

The 24th ASEAN-Japan Summit Meeting (teleconference) (October 27, Prime Minister's Office; Photo: Cabinet Public Relations Office)The 24th ASEAN-Japan Summit Meeting (teleconference)
(October 27, Prime Minister's Office; Photo: Cabinet Public Relations Office)

(4) Mekong-Japan Summit Meeting (Participating Countries: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Viet Nam and Japan)

The Mekong region (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam) is the core of the Indo-Pacific and is Japan's Strategic Partner with strong economic growth and potential. Peace and prosperity in the Mekong region are extremely important to Asia as a whole, including Japan, since it contributes to narrowing the development gap in the region and promoting regional integration within ASEAN. Japan has been holding the Mekong-Japan Summit Meeting every year since 2009 in order to steadily implement Mekong-Japan cooperation. The Mekong-Japan Summit Meeting was postponed in 2021 due to circumstances such as COVID-19, but there has been no change in Japan's position of emphasizing cooperation with the Mekong region, and Japan continues to maintain its steadfast commitment to the region. Japan will continue to contribute to the prosperity and development of the region as a reliable partner for Mekong region countries.

(5) ASEAN Plus Three (Participating Countries: 10 ASEAN countries and Japan, China and the ROK)

The Asian financial crisis in 1997 prompted the launch of ASEAN Plus Three, in the form of adding the three countries of Japan, China and the ROK to ASEAN. ASEAN Plus Three has been developed with a focus on areas such as finance and food security. It currently covers cooperation in 24 fields, including finance, agriculture and food, education, culture, tourism, public health, energy and the environment. Under the “ASEAN Plus Three Cooperation Work Plan (2018-2022)” adopted in August 2017, the ASEAN Plus Three countries have been making further progress on cooperation in various fields.

At the ASEAN Plus Three Foreign Ministers' Meeting held in August and at the 24th ASEAN Plus Three Summit Meeting held in October, Foreign Minister Motegi and Prime Minister Kishida each spoke about Japan's support to ASEAN for measures against COVID-19 as well as ASEAN Plus Three cooperation, and then emphasized the importance of promoting cooperation in line with the principles and priority areas of the AOIP that shares fundamental principles with FOIP.

In terms of COVID-19 support, Prime Minister Kishida stated that Japan would provide (1) full support for ACPHEED, (2) full support to further promote medical support and for the provision of safe, effective and quality-assured vaccines, and (3) near interest-free financial assistance in yen loans to ASEAN countries as economic revitalization support. Prime Minister Kishida also spoke about expanded investment in quality infrastructure through the “Initiative on Overseas Loan and Investment for ASEAN,” and about further expansion of the “ASEAN-Japan Economic Resilience Action Plan.”

Regarding ASEAN Plus Three cooperation, Prime Minister Kishida expressed Japan's intention to (1) support further utilization of the ASEAN Plus Three Emergency Rice Reserve (APTERR) to respond to COVID-19, (2) work towards the full implementation of the RCEP Agreement and promote the materialization of Data Free Flow with Trust (DFFT), (3) cooperate to stabilize the international crude oil market, and (4) welcomed the entry into force of the amended Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralisation (CMIM) Agreement. In response, the ASEAN side expressed its gratitude for the support from Japan, China, and the ROK for ASEAN's response to COVID-19. Several countries expressed their expectations for the operationalization of regional medical reserves and for further cooperation in vaccine development, production and procurement. They emphasized the importance of enhancing regional cooperation, including the early entry into force of the RCEP Agreement, to achieve a sustainable recovery from COVID-19.

For regional and international affairs, with regard to North Korea, Prime Minister Kishida asked for continued understanding and cooperation of each country toward the immediate resolution of the abductions issue. He also clarified Japan's position on the situation in Myanmar.

The 22nd ASEAN Plus Three Foreign Ministers' Meeting (teleconference) (August 3, Tokyo)The 22nd ASEAN Plus Three Foreign Ministers' Meeting (teleconference) (August 3, Tokyo)

(6) East Asia Summit (EAS) (Participating Countries: 10 ASEAN countries and Japan, China, the ROK, Australia, New Zealand, India, the U.S. and Russia)

Launched in 2005, the EAS is the premier forum of the region, which aims to facilitate candid dialogue among leaders on issues of importance to the region and the international community, and to promote leaders-led cooperation in politics, security and the economy. Moreover, many democratic nations take part in the EAS, and it is expected that the EAS will contribute to the sharing of fundamental values in the region, including democracy and the rule of law, as well as to strengthening international rules and norms concerning trade and investment.

At the EAS Foreign Ministers' Meeting teleconference held in August, Foreign Minister Motegi clarified Japan's position on the issue concerning North Korea, including the abductions issue, on the situation in the East China Sea and in the South China Sea, on the situation in Hong Kong, and on the human rights situation in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

At the 16th EAS held in October, Prime Minister Kishida reiterated that Japan highly values and fully supports the AOIP, and called on each country to support the AOIP. He also explained that Japan and ASEAN are steadily promoting concrete cooperation that contributes to the principles of the AOIP.

Regarding regional and international affairs, Prime Minister Kishida expressed serious concerns over and strongly opposed to continued activities that violate Japan's sovereignty in the East China Sea, as well as activities that are raising tensions and actions that are against the rule of law taken in the South China Sea. He stated that the COC on the South China Sea should be in line with UNCLOS and should respect the legitimate rights and interests of all stakeholders using the South China Sea. He also stated the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and expressed his strong opposition to any economic coercion. Other countries expressed concern about the issue of the South China Sea, and also commented on the importance of freedom of navigation and flight over the South China Sea, and on the importance of the peaceful resolution of disputes in line with international law, including UNCLOS.

Prime Minister Kishida expressed serious concerns about the situation in Hong Kong and the human rights situation in the XUAR, and other countries also expressed concerns.

On North Korea, Prime Minister Kishida stated that North Korea also launched ballistic missiles in October and that the peace and security of the region and international community is under threat. He also stated that the full implementation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions, including “ship-to-ship transfer” measures, is essential to achieve the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement (CVID) of all weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles of all ranges of North Korea. In addition, he asked for the continued understanding and cooperation of all countries toward the immediate resolution of the abductions issue. The participating countries also made remarks on the importance of denuclearization in the Korean Peninsula and the full implementation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions.

As for the situation in Myanmar, Prime Minister Kishida stressed again the position of the Government of Japan, that it strongly urges the stop of violence, the release of those who are detained and the restoration of Myanmar's democratic political system. He also urged Myanmar to constructively respond in order to enable the visit of Brunei Minister of Foreign Affairs II and ASEAN Special Envoy Dato Erywan to Myanmar as soon as possible. In addition, he mentioned that, to turn around the situation, Japan intends to deal with the issue by upholding engagement as a key principle, to continue to fully support ASEAN's efforts and to actively provide humanitarian assistance. The participating countries also mentioned the importance of cooperating for the swift implementation of the “Five-Point Consensus,” including the visit of ASEAN Special Envoy Erywan, and humanitarian assistance to the people of Myanmar.

The 16th East Asia Summit (EAS) (teleconference) (October 27, Prime Minister's Office; Photo: Cabinet Public Relations Office)The 16th East Asia Summit (EAS) (teleconference) (October 27, Prime Minister's Office; Photo: Cabinet Public Relations Office)

(7) Japan-China-ROK Trilateral Cooperation

Trilateral cooperation among Japan, China and the ROK continues to be vital from the perspective of promoting exchanges and mutual understanding among the three countries that enjoy geographical proximity and share deep historical ties. Furthermore, as economies that play a major role in the world economy and serve as the force driving prosperity of the East Asian region, trilateral cooperation among Japan, China and the ROK is one of the areas of cooperation that has huge potential in efforts to tackle various issues in the international community.

In order to promote practical cooperation in a variety of fields, working-level discussions were held, including the Japan-China-ROK Consultative Meeting on Consumer Politics in November and the Japan-China-ROK Consumer Policy Council in December. In August, Japan hosted the Japan-China-ROK Ministerial Conference on Transport and Logistics online and the Trilateral Culture Ministers' video teleconference to overcome the impacts of COVID-19 and discuss the direction of trilateral cooperation in the post COVID-19 era. Practical exchanges of views were conducted between the Ministers of the three countries, and joint statements were adopted.

(8) Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) (See Chapter 3, Section 3, 3 (2))

Consisting of 21 economies (countries and regions) in the Asia-Pacific region, APEC promotes regional economic integration and cooperation across the region among the member economies on a voluntary basis. As the Asia-Pacific region is positioned as the “world's growth center,” strengthening economic cooperation and trust in the economic aspect in this region is crucial in pursuing Japan's further economic development.

At the APEC 2021 – New Zealand summit teleconference in November, in addition to the Leaders' Declaration, the “Aotearoa Plan of Action” for implementing the “APEC Putrajaya Vision 2040” was adopted as an addendum to the Leaders' Declaration. Prime Minister Kishida, who attended the summit, expressed his determination to put the Japanese economy on a new growth trajectory and contribute to the growth of the Asia-Pacific region by aiming to realize new capitalism.

(9) South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)

SAARC was officially inaugurated in 1985 with multiple objectives such as enhancing the welfare of citizens of the South Asian countries, and cooperation and collaboration in economic and social development and cultural areas. As of 2020, SAARC has eight member states (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives and Afghanistan) and nine observer countries and institutions including Japan. As a relatively loose framework of regional cooperation, SAARC has worked primarily on economic, social and cultural areas, through summit meetings and meetings of the Council at the ministerial level (foreign ministers' meetings). As part of youth exchange between Japan and SAARC, Japan has invited 3,615 people to date.

(10) Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA)

IORA is a regional organization whose main purpose is to promote economic cooperation in the Indian Ocean rim region, and Japan has been participating as a dialogue partner country since 1999. At the IORA Day 2021 reception, held in March to commemorate the 24th anniversary of the establishment of IORA, Foreign Minister Motegi sent a video message and expressed that Japan will continue to work with IORA toward the realization of a FOIP. Additionally, in November, Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Honda Taro attended the 21st IORA Council of Ministers Meeting via teleconference, explaining Japan's support for IORA member countries in such areas as response to COVID-19 and climate change policies, including for disaster prevention.