The Summits between ASEAN and its Northeast Asian dialogue partners, China and Japan in Bali last October were portrayed by many as a zero sum game between the two to woo ASEAN.

China secured a strategic partnership with ASEAN as well as becoming the first dialogue partner to accede to ASEAN’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia thereby making history on the two accounts. It also locked in a protocol on an early harvest package under its comprehensive economic package with ASEAN, and a pact on information and communications technology cooperation.

Japan was seen as getting little out of the summit except for a comprehensive economic framework document. Even India, a new comer to the Summit gained much more with a framework agreement on comprehensive economic partnership and a terrorism pact as well as being the second dialogue partner to accede to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation.

The non-committal posture of Japan apparently dismayed its businessmen and resulted in the Japanese dailies branding their government’s approach as cautious which had resulted in wasted opportunities.

Is this a fair portrayal of ASEAN-Japan relations? Absolutely not. ASEAN-Japan relations is more enduring and dynamic to be loser. Japan is a matured and well accustomed friend and partner of ASEAN. Besides, ASEAN external relations strategy is outward looking aiming at maximizing cooperation with each and every dialogue partner based on the strengths of ASEAN and each of its dialogue partners.

Japan not only provided a ready market for the exports of these countries but also set up manufacturing bases and transferred the much need technology and management know-how. Many of the successful companies in these countries have been built on the Japanese model.

Japan also provided official development assistance (ODA) to these countries as well as the other ASEAN member countries which joined later. Japan has provided a total of about US$23 billion to ASEAN over the last three decades and ASEAN continue to receive the largest share of Japanese ODA.

While the contribution of Japan to ASEAN’s economic prosperity and integration cannot be denied, Japan should not rest on its past laurels but will have to re-energize its relations with ASEAN given the dynamic regional environment.

ASEAN is ready for an active engagement with Japan and will be looking forward to injecting a new momentum into the relationship as the ASEAN Heads of State/Government hold their Commemorative Summit with the Prime Minister of Japan on Dec. 11-12, 2003 in Tokyo. This is the first ever Commemorative Summit with a dialogue partner in ASEAN’s history of external relations and the first Summit to be held outside ASEAN.

Japan should not procrastinate but seize the window presented by the Commemorative Summit to cement a strong bond with ASEAN so that both sides could act and advance together in a dynamic and enduring partnership in the 21st Century. How could this be achieved and in a fairly short time?

First, Japan and ASEAN should work towards Japan acceding to ASEAN’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia at the Commemorative Summit and subsequently ratifying it. This will help to boost mutual trust and confidence between ASEAN and Japan in safeguarding peace, stability and prosperity of Southeast Asia.

Since this is more a political document and the scope is limited to Southeast Asia, Japan need not have to worry that the scope of the Treaty could be extended beyond Southeast Asia nor that the Treaty will hinder its obligations under other treaties it is a signatory to or in implementing its UN obligations.

Second, Japan will have to speed up the implementation of the ASEAN-Japan comprehensive economic partnership framework that it had signed with ASEAN in Bali in October 2003 by extending from 2005 all efforts to commence negotiations so that there will be sufficient time for the implementation of the framework.

This will allow for the timely delivery of mutual benefits in the key areas of trade and investment promotion, facilitation, and liberalization; trade related areas customs, standards, information technology communication, tourism, and transportation and logistics; and facilitating mobility of business people and others.

Third, Japan will have to work with ASEAN in supporting the regional integration drive through the IAI and in developing the sub-regional growth areas in ASEAN such as the Mekong Basin and the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines- East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA). This effort will strengthen ASEAN integration and will bring about development to the outlying areas in the region which will help more people to benefit and create a more cohesive ASEAN.

Japan should also look into implementing more IAI projects and in 2005 projects under the successor plan to the Ha Noi Action Plan to realize ASEAN’s Vision 2020. At the same time, Japan should work closely with the new member countries of ASEAN not only in human resource development but on infrastructure development since a more connected ASEAN would spur economic activities and opportunities for Japanese businesses looking for new markets and investment opportunities.

Fourth, ASEAN and Japan have to work on a set of core values that both sides could promote and use as a gel to bring about better understanding among its people, especially the younger generation so that a more cohesive and future orientated relationship could be pursued. Such values should be built on the rich traditions and values and principles of East Asia.

Finally, Japan and ASEAN should deepen East Asia cooperation together with China and the Republic of Korea. This should go beyond the implementation of ad-hoc projects under the ASEAN Plus Three Process to focusing on the strategic development of East Asia encompassing the political and security, economic and social and cultural aspects for a more meaningful, dynamic and mutually beneficial cooperation.

*The writer is also Head of External Relations in the ASEAN Secretariat. This article is a personal view.