Jakarta, 11 March 2011

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It was with profound sadness that I learnt about Japan’s worst natural disaster in almost two decades. The 8.8-magnitude earthquake that hit northeast Japan this afternoon and triggered a tsunami have taken at least 10 lives and hurt numerous others.

I wish to express my sincere sympathy to the Government and people of Japan, one of our oldest, most generous Dialogue Partners and closest friends of ASEAN since 1977. My colleagues and I share your sadness and concern.

Japan has been quick to support ASEAN in managing our own challenges, natural disasters, pandemics and economic recovery since the Asian financial crisis in 1997 as well as other, non-traditional, threats. ASEAN Member States are grateful and want to assist and accommodate Japan as it embarks upon its own recovery and reconstruction after this natural disaster affecting a major part of the country.

In fact, several colleagues and I were scheduled to be in Japan this weekend to partake in the JICA-ASEAN Connectivity Symposium and other activities.

I understand that 20 countries in the region have issued tsunami warnings as a matter of precaution. These are countries with coastlines in and around the Pacific Ocean. I hope that communities in high-risk areas in the eastern part of Indonesia and the eastern seaboard of the Philippines will exercise full precaution and seek guidance from local authorities on steps to be taken.

This is a clear reminder that natural disasters can occur anywhere, anytime. ASEAN will have to expedite its own mechanisms to be prepared for such calamities. Our procedures and tools under the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER), and the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance (AHA Centre), must be in place and ready for these kinds of eventualities.

The ASEAN Secretariat stands ready to coordinate any support, assistance and cooperation as well as private sector contributions for the victims of this unfortunate situation.