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A vision for the future of Asean and Japan

ASEAN leaders offered a silent prayer to the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines during a welcome dinner of Japan-ASEAN commemorative summit hosted by Abe at the Abes official residence in Tokyo, Friday. EPA/Shizuo Kambayashi

ASEAN leaders offered a silent prayer to the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines during a welcome dinner of Japan-ASEAN commemorative summit hosted by Abe at the Abes official residence in Tokyo, Friday. EPA/Shizuo Kambayashi

On the eve of tomorrow's Asean-Japan Commemorative Summit in Tokyo, I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the significance of the 40-year-old Asean-Japan partnership.

We already have excellent bilateral relations with each Asean member country, so why are we strengthening the cooperation between Japan and Asean as a collective entity?

First, in the area of economy, Asean has been the centre for manufacturing for Japanese companies, and both Asean and Japan have enjoyed economic growth thanks to the regional bloc's strong manufacturing industry. A single Asean entity with better inter-connectivity and intra-connectivity will bring about more efficiency, both in production and distribution of goods, and will greatly benefit both Asean and Japan's sustainable economic growth and economies of scale.

Asean has grown tremendously in the last 40 years to become the world's market and a centre for service industries. It is indispensable for Japan to tap the energy and vitality of Asean as the centre of growth for the revitalisation of the Japanese economy under the direction of so-called Abenomics. At the same time, I am confident that the revitalisation of our economy will bring further mutual benefit both to the regional and global economy.

Second, Asean and Japan share seas that stretch between the two. The same can be said for the airspace above. There is no need to mention how significant it is for Asean as an entity to ensure and promote fundamental values such as freedom, democracy and human rights and rule of law in order to maintain the peace and stability of the region. I believe that Japan and Asean, through their commitment to renouncing threat or use of force or coercion, and to peaceful dispute resolutions, can play a more active role for peace, stability and prosperity in the global community.

During the summit, I will take the opportunity to explain to Asean leaders the concept of my Proactive Contribution to Peace policy for regional and global stability and security based on Japan's long-standing principle of international cooperation and building on Japan's post-war endeavours as a peace-loving nation.

At the same time, I strongly believe in two-way, win-win cultural exchanges in Asia and have committed to launch a "WA Project Toward an Interactive Asia through Fusion and Harmony". The JENESYS 2.0 youth exchange programme I announced in January in Jakarta is currently operating between Asean and Japan. Travelling to all 10 Asean countries this year, I was enlightened by the diversity and richness of the cultures of each nation. For example, during my visit to Brunei, I visited the water village of Kampong Ayer and enjoyed a heart-warming exchange with a family living there. From Malaysia, I have fond memories of the hospitality at the dinner reception despite its being held during Ramadan. I had the honour of singing with the First Lady. In Vietnam, with Prime Minister Dung I enjoyed witnessing traditional dance dating back to ancient times. Through these wonderful experiences, I found confirmation that Asean and Japan are able to understand each other from the bottom of our hearts and work hand-in-hand for a partnership that ties the hearts of our people.

I would like to emphasise once again that Asean-Japan partnership has great potential to be realised further.

At the summit, I am looking forward to having substantial discussions with Asean leaders on four aspects of equal importance to our future relationship: peace and stability, prosperity, citizens' quality of life, and people-to-people exchanges.

I believe that for the benefit of regional and global interests, Asean and Japan should engage further for the maintenance of peace and stability, greatly enhance our economic partnership in various areas by promoting trade in goods and services, and focus on the promotion of human resources development to overcome socio-economic issues. Last but not least, I expect this summit to be an invaluable opportunity to nurture the friendship between Asean and Japan that I myself have already witnessed throughout this year. I strongly believe that the mutual trust we have built, and will continue to enhance, will form a solid foundation for our everlasting partnership.

To respond to the warm hospitality from Asean countries that I received during every visit this year, I look forward to discussing ways to promote our cultural exchanges and give back the hospitality of Japan. In this context, I am pleased to host the Asean delegations at a Gala Dinner during their visit which will offer an opportunity for everyone to experience Japanese and Asean culture. In addition, as Tokyo will host the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics Games, I intend to promote sports and cultural exchanges even further, especially on youth football exchanges.

My grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, visited Southeast Asian countries in 1957 when he was prime minister. It was the first official visit to Asia by a Japanese prime minister after the second world war. More than half a century has passed since then. Now, an opportunity to bring the Asean-Japan relationship initiated by my grandfather to a higher level is laid out in front of me. Succeeding my late grandfather's wishes and dedication, I am committed to the success of the summit. Tomorrow will be remembered as a milestone that sets out a clear vision of a bright and promising future for Asean and Japan.

Shinzo Abe is prime minister of Japan.


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