The 7th Japan-Singapore Symposium
Keynote Address
Shintaro Ito
State Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan

(February 23, 2009)


as delivered "Oral Version"

Your Excellency, Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Abidin Rasheed Zainul,
Honorable Co-Chair Tommy Koh,
Honorable Co-Chair Shotaro Yachi,
Ladies and gentlemen,

This symposium is being held in the midst of diminishing clarity in global affairs, not least of which is the upheaval in the global economy, sparked by the financial crisis. Facing such a situation, it is therefore of great benefit to us all to gather to discuss the integration and development of East Asia, which will contribute to the development of the wider Asian region and the world as a whole. This symposium is even more appropriate when we consider that Singapore is acting as chair of APEC this year and that the APEC chairmanship will pass to Japan in 2010. Our discussions in this forum on the integration of the East Asian region will give us further forward momentum, and it is my sincere hope that this symposium will produce frank and vigorous dialogue.

1. East Asia and the Financial Crisis

(East Asia today and a direction for the future)

With the global economy in its current state, there may seem to be no room for optimism about the Asian economy. However, it is often said that opportunities present themselves in a crisis, and the world is looking to East Asia, acting as a "center of growth open to the world," to play a role in driving the global economy out of the current critical situation into a period of recovery. To overcome the financial crisis, we must advance cooperation in a number of ways, including reform of the financial sector, strengthening the provisions of the Chiang Mai Initiative, and boosting cooperation with international financial institutions. We must also unify efforts towards boosting Asia's growth potential and expanding domestic demand in each country.

We are currently faced with the worrying prospect that protectionist tendencies will emerge around the world and need to ask ourselves what would happen if all countries were to mutually implement protectionist measures leading to a contraction in the global economy. The human race has already learned the bitter lessons of the events that led to the outbreak of the Second World War. This means that if we are serious about responding to the financial crisis and economic upheaval and staging a real economic recovery, we must support and further enhance the structure of free trade, and expand all types of orderly investment. From this perspective, I believe that East Asia should set an example for the world, proceeding towards an open form of integration that promotes sustainable growth.

Since December 2008, Japan has been working jointly with the countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to advance the liberalization of trade and investment in Asia under the auspices of the ASEAN-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership (AJCEP) agreement, which is being put into effect in stages, and also through the bilateral economic partnership agreements (EPA) that have already been signed or enacted between Japan and seven countries in Southeast Asia. I believe that Japan's multi-layered economic cooperation will contribute to further increasing dynamism in the region and towards greater vitality and integration in the regional economy.

(Efforts by Japan)

To counter the current financial crisis, Japan is prioritizing its cooperation with the countries of Asia. Since November last year, Special Envoys of the Prime Minister of Japan, Masakazu Toyoda and Yoshinori Katori, have made a round of visits to 11 Asian countries, for the purpose of creating an environment through which all countries can cooperate in creating specific response measures to the crisis.

At the recent Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Prime Minister Taro Aso of Japan delivered an address on the measures that Japan is implementing. In addition to announcing Japan's readiness to provide a loan with a maximum amount equivalent to US$100 billion, the prime minister also spoke about progress in strengthening the Chiang Mai Initiative. In the same speech, he also announced the implementation of emergency assistance to Asia totaling approximately US$100 million. Furthermore, the prime minister introduced Japan's proactive engagement in measures designed to promote growth potential in Asia and boost domestic demand in the region, including wide-area development initiatives such as the Mekong region development and the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor. For such purposes, the prime minister announced that Japan would support Asian countries by mobilizing funds ranging from Official Development Assistance (ODA) totaling no less than US$1.7 billion, to Other Official Flows (OOF) and private capital.

2. Significance of East Asian Integration

(Significance of constructing an East Asian Community (EAC))

Needless to say, vigorous cooperative relations within the Asian region are not limited to the economic sphere alone. In response to the various challenges we face, which are not surmountable by one country alone, it is essential that the countries in the region work together to overcome them. To date, we have implemented a number of concerted cooperative efforts, including measures to tackle the Asian financial crisis of 1997, counter-terrorism measures following the simultaneous terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001, efforts to combat the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003, and cooperation in the face of the earthquake off the coast of Sumatra and resulting Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. These joint efforts among numerous countries and regions have helped to nurture positive practices and foster relations of trust.

While our cooperative ties continue to develop, the challenges we face multiply even further with growing impetus and greater breadth. The countries of the Asian region have a responsibility to come together when responding to not only the challenges that affect our region, but also those issues of a global nature that impact the future of humankind as a whole. To engage in such endeavors, I think you will agree that there is now an ever more pressing need to utilize the existing frameworks of dialogue and further broaden our areas of cooperation, with a view towards the formation of a future "East Asian Community (EAC)."

(Position of ASEAN in the creation of an East Asian Community)

Although an East Asian Community cannot be created overnight, one unwavering fact is that ASEAN will be expected to play a central role in any future formation of such a community.

Looking broadly across the range of existing regional frameworks, we see that there is one constant factor in the likes of fora such as ASEAN+1, ASEAN+3, ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), and the East Asian Summit (EAS). That one constant factor is ASEAN. For me, it is quite self-evident that with ASEAN "in the driver's seat," with its open, transparent and comprehensive nature, regional cooperation in these fora is progressing. Accordingly, one of the most important prerequisites when considering a roadmap for the creation of an actual East Asian Community is for ASEAN to further deepen integration and further employ its unifying force in the region.

In this context, I have been incredibly encouraged by the enactment in December last year of the ASEAN Charter, which declares ASEAN's commitment to accelerating integration efforts towards the realization of an ASEAN Community by 2015. The ASEAN Charter incorporates universal values and principles of democracy, respect for human rights, rule of law and good governance. It is truly these principles and values that will contribute enormously to the further integration of ASEAN and serve as the unifying force of the organization.

(Comparisons with the European Union)

When discussing the creation of an "East Asian Community," the most advanced example we have of regional integration in the international community, and which can be cited as an up-and-running model, is that of the European Union (EU). However, this does not mean that in the construction of an anticipated East Asian Community, the EU model can simply be applied to Asia. Put in general terms, we see that the countries of Western Europe share a somewhat similar degree of economic development and a common and underlying culture based on the influence of Christianity. On the other hand, in the case of East Asia, we live in a tremendously diverse region, with large differences in economic development, religious underpinnings, political structures and concepts, and security policies. This diversity would make it difficult to initially aim for the introduction of a political and institutional structure and framework along the lines of the EU. At the very least, initially it would be practical to promote individual cooperation tailored to each of the challenges we face in a broad range of areas. From this perspective, the "functional approach" that is already being promoted in cross-regional cooperation based around the hub of ASEAN would be the wisest approach, and one that would provide a useful source of reference in the process of forming a future East Asian Community, since it has already produced results.

(European values and Asian values)

When discussing an "East Asian Community" in this manner and based on the recent unprecedented financial crisis and global economic upheaval, if I may venture to offer my own personal opinion, I would like to take a brief look at the background of the situations of Western Europe and East Asia from the perspective of civilization theory.

In the formation of modern civil society in Western Europe, individual freedoms were established together with an efficient market-based economy. As a result, a large portion of the world's population has been able to enjoy material wealth and convenience in daily living on a scale previously unknown in human history. The market economy system has the advantage of being able to maximize efficient production and consumption of commodities and services. On the other hand, the rise of this system can be thought of as a process that has served to moderate Western concepts that originated at a time when Europeans lived as hunter-gatherers and even then were attempting to subjugate the natural world. Accordingly, in the modern era, no matter how much the system may be eased or facilitated through governmental or other intervention, in essence the market economy system has inevitably been based on a principle of survival of the fittest through competition.

Let me now take a contrasting look at East Asia, before it came into contact with and became involved in the modern Western European system. In terms of industrialized society, it can be said that East Asia had experienced a relatively low level of development. However, with the exception of certain cases of urban-based commerce, I believe that in the rural communities of East Asia that were engaged in agriculture, livestock rearing, and fishing, against a backdrop of diverse cultures and values across the region, the concept of "co-existence" that was not excessively competitive was present. This value of co-existence in Asia is not one that is expressly defined or codified, unlike the religious edicts and ethics of Western Europe. However, I believe that this spirit of co-existence is still ingrained in the people of Asia, who for so long have lived in harmony with nature in agricultural communities, and that this spirit is an ancient and unchanging part of their very being.

Furthermore, over the past decades, a wide range of intellectuals have discussed the concept of "going beyond the modern" in search of solutions to the plethora of contemporary global issues that Western European modern progress faces. However, as you are all aware, a definitive answer to this conundrum has yet to be found.

(Setting out a direction for an East Asian Community)

It is for these reasons that in discussions about an "East Asian Community," I believe that we must seek out a model that is unique to Asia, which, while basing itself around a traditional Asian ethos, can also achieve sufficient economic prosperity in the modern sense. What I am suggesting is not an emulation of the Western model, but neither is it a denial or repudiation of that model. We should aim for a balanced vision in which the principle of "competition" that is an inevitable outcome of an efficient market economy and an Asian-style spirit of "co-existence" can be merged together. Although these two concepts may seem to be diametrically opposed, historical experience tells us that there is great value in rising to the challenge of melding them together. When the time comes for an East Asian Community to create a framework that integrates these two models, I believe it will be a form of regional integration that will serve as an example to the entire world.

In the case of the current financial crisis, I can see that the ultimate cause of the upheaval we are witnessing is nothing more than unlimited human greed. Naturally, it cannot be denied that desire in itself nurtures ambition in people. Yet, unbridled greed has transformed finance, which was once the lubricating agent of the economy, into something more abstract that is divorced from the real economy. Moreover, increasingly elaborate forms of financial engineering have led to a runaway tendency to prioritize personal gain, at the expense of society as a whole and our place as individuals in that society. One of the lessons of the financial crisis that is being currently discussed is the need for appropriate monitoring of financial systems around the world by experts, and the development of structures to support such monitoring. But shouldn't we also review and revise the societal constructs and ways people go about their lives that were the root cause of what brought about the collapse of sub-prime loans in the first place? It may be useful here to recall a saying in Japanese that translates as "he is rich who has few wants," and also the words of Confucius, whose words resonate in China and throughout Asia and who once said, "Everything in moderation." These phrases embody the spirit we should aim to emulate. However far the economy may advance and however sophisticated methods may become, to set out without these overarching principles and spirit is tantamount to setting sail on a great ocean without a compass. As we face the current global turmoil, I believe that we are in a position to convey the wisdom of Asia to the world.

There is no precedent in history for modern regional development and prosperity being realized based on traditional principles such as "co-existence" and "moderation" that are the hallmarks of the countries of East Asia, which, while searching for economic efficiency and rationality, turn away from rampant competition and market fundamentalism. In particular, while the countries of Asia share a common spirit at a deep and fundamental level, the creation of a regional community in a form that includes and draws from the pluralist values and diverse cultures of a multi polar Asia is an undertaking that will surely face difficulties and growing pains. However, I believe that given such a historical challenge, we, Japan and the countries of ASEAN, including Singapore, must join hands as Asian compatriots in this common endeavor.

3. Conclusion (Japan-Singapore Cooperation)

There is no question that Singapore is a source of knowledge and wisdom for ASEAN and a country that is a cornerstone for the East Asian region as a whole. Using its outstanding diplomatic prowess and proven ability to implement policies to coordinate with other countries and work towards regional peace and prosperity, Singapore has demonstrated its capacity to promote progressive measures that Japan has yet to embark upon. Singapore is truly the embodiment of the lion, which is the symbol of your country.

Japan will continue to engage in cooperation with countries in the region towards the goal of East Asian integration, and Singapore is a vital partner in this endeavor. Singapore naturally shares the universal values that may well be said to be a global standard, and another significant asset is the Asian spirit I have mentioned today that we both share. Our foreign policy visions with respect to the international community are essentially the same, and as was previously mentioned in a Japan-Singapore leaders' summit meeting, Singapore is a "reliable partner" for Japan.

On the basis of these mature and cooperative relations, as we move down the long and ambitious road of creating an "East Asian Community," Japan and Singapore must coordinate their actions in a mutually complementary manner. First and foremost, it will be important to engage in bilateral intellectual exchanges and dialogue among various sectors in the public and private spheres. It is essential that we amass all kinds of knowledge for the creation of an East Asian Community, and engage in continuous discussions, from which further opportunities for engagement in consultation with other countries in the region will emerge. In that sense, I believe that this symposium, which has now been held on a total of seven occasions, has tremendous relevance. I hope that it will continue to be a forum for vigorous discussion into the future.

Let's build on these discussions to create together a new model of multi polar integration in East Asia that unifies, but also keeps intact the diversity of cultures and values of our region.

Thank you for your attention.

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