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  May - July 2008            
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ASEAN-Japan Centre
Heart-to-Heart Ties

Mr. Nobutoshi Akao, Secretary General, ASEAN-Japan Centre

Top investor in Asean for decades, Japan has played a crucial role in the region’s development, with the Fukuda Doctrine, and its ‘heart-to-heart’ diplomacy being the centerpiece in strengthening Asean-Japan ties. Now that the ten-nation Asean is driving full steam towards integration of the economies, the ties with Japan being revitalised, AseanAffairs magazine finds it timely and important to share with you our readers perspectives from Nobutoshi Akao, Secretary General of ASEAN-Japan Centre on the ties that bind Asean and Japan.   

Q: Thank you for taking this interview with  . We would like you to begin by telling us about the origin of the ASEAN-Japan Centre. What goals were set and how many of them have been achieved over the years. What challenges lie ahead for the Centre and Japan and Asean. Elaborate also on the Fukuda doctrine and how it has played a role in shaping Japan’s relationship with Southeast Asia?

In 1977, former Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda announced three basic principles of Japan’s diplomacy towards Southeast Asia. It included the significance of “heart-to-heart understanding” between Asean and Japan, which became known as the Fukuda Doctrine, the underlying basis for Japan’s diplomacy towards Southeast Asia, upheld by the successive Japanese governments..

A: To embody the Fukuda Doctrine, the ASEAN-Japan Centre was established in 1981; and since then, the Centre has served as a catalyst to strengthen Asean-Japan relations. Our mission is to promote exports from Asean to Japan, as well as to vitalise investment and tourist traffic from Japan to Asean. Various Asean products and services have been successfully introduced to the Japanese market.

We have been informed by Japanese companies, which started their business in Asean countries that their participation in our activities served as a key factor for their decision to invest in Asean. Further, the ASEAN-Japan Centre has been well received at the annual Asean Tourism Ministers’ Meeting as the only organisation that promotes Asean as a single tourism destination.

Q: You mentioned in the introduction page in the ASEAN-Japan Centre website that the Centre is going through a reform drive in response to broadening ties
between Asean and Japan. What do you want to achieve through this reform?

A: The “Asean-Japan Plan of Action,” adopted at the Asean-Japan Commemorative Summit held in Tokyo in 2003, called for the initiation of consultations for the reform of the Centre to strengthen its functions, and widen and deepen its scope of activities. Then, an Eminent Persons Committee (EPC) was established in 2005 to draw up recommendations on the future direction of the Centre, whose Final Report was submitted to the leaders in 2006.

The current and future direction of the Centre’s reform includes the further enhancement of assistance for Asean integration with focus on the narrowing of development gaps among Asean countries, Asean-Japan partnership, and promotion of mutual understanding, among others.

With the economic rise of China and India, the Centre’s focus has been put on Asean competitiveness and enhancing human resource development, in such sectors as information and communications technology (ICT), SMEs and design development, as well as in strengthening institutional arrangements based on the EPAs and the AJCEP (Asean-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership) Agreement initiatives.

Along with the Centre’s reform, the implementation of two-way programmes for tourism and investment and the promotion of exchange of persons, especially the youth, will be included as the Centre’s new objectives. To that end, we are accelerating the necessary procedures for the amendments to the Agreement Establishing the Centre to enter into force, so that new activities could be implemented.

Asean-Japan Centre, Tokyo

Q: Is Japan trying to speed up its efforts to wrap up free trade accords with countries in Southeast Asia, and why should it do so?

A: Parallel to the promotion of multilateral trade negotiations within the WTO framework, the Japanese government has been especially working hard to negotiate and conclude EPAs with individual Asean countries as well as the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement with Asean as a whole.

Japan has already signed/concluded EPAs with six Asean countries -Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, and is now negotiating an EPA with Vietnam. The notable thing is that Japan’s EPAs are much wider in scope and of a higher quality in terms of substance than FTAs which countries like China and South Korea have been pursuing with Asean.

They cover not only the liberalisation of trade in goods and services, but also the liberalisation of investment and the establishment of its rules, the strengthening of the protection of intellectual property rights, Japan’s acceptance of some categories of Asean workers -nurses, health-care workers and cooks- under certain conditions, and a wide range of cooperation, such as the improvement of transportation and logistics, support for the development of ICT, promoting cooperation in the field of SMEs, tourism and environment.

Asean and Japan have started moves to deepen economic interdependence through trade, investment and tourist traffic over the years. EPAs with individual Asean countries and the recently signed AJCEP will further promote the economic integration between Asean and Japan. It is expected that these economic agreements will serve as the basis for further promoting the economic integration of East Asia as a whole.

Q: Why do you think there are delays in certain Asean member countries ratifying the EPA with Japan?

A: EPAs with Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand came into force in 2002, 2006 and 2007, respectively, while the ratification procedures of already signed EPAs with Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines are still under way. Japan already obtained the Diet approval for the EPA with the Philippines; and given that EPAs with Brunei and Indonesia will be approved by the Diet before long, EPAs with these two countries are expected to enter into force by the end of 2008.

However, due to the on-going discussions in the Philippine Senate, ratifying the EPA with the Philippines is taking longer than scheduled. The EPA with Japan is expected to bring about large benefits to the Philippines as other Asean countries have recognised. I hope that the Senate will ratify the EPA as early as possible. Read the Complete Article Subscribe to ASEANAFFAIRS Magazine


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