Seminar Closer ASEAN-Japan Partnership amid U.S.-China Superpower Rivalry?

August 02, 2023


KKC invited Dr. Lam Peng Er, Principal Research Fellow at the National University of Singapore (NUS), to give a talk titled “Closer ASEAN-Japan Partnership amid U.S.-China Superpower Rivalry?”

Dr. Lam began with an overview of Japan’s relations with Southeast Asia since the end of World War II. He elaborated on the 1977 Fukuda Doctrine, Japan’s foreign policy blueprint towards Southeast Asia, which comprises three major tenets: Japan will not be a militaristic power in Southeast Asia, Japan will seek a “heart to heart” relationship with the ASEAN states, and Japan will forge an equal relationship with ASEAN and support it as a regional organization. According to the State of Southeast Asia 2023, an opinion survey of ASEAN elites found that “Japan maintains its lead as the region’s most trusted power (54.5%).”

Dr. Lam characterized the “heart to heart” component beyond elite level as the strength of Japan’s relationship with the ASEAN states. For example, Tokyo established the Japan-ASEAN Integration Fund (JAIF) in 2006 to support the ASEAN Community. Similarly, many ordinary Southeast Asians spontaneously decided to donate after the catastrophic March 2011 triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown, which demonstrated the Japan-ASEAN relationship’s reciprocal nature.

Looking ahead, Dr. Lam stated that Southeast Asia will become more important to Japan diplomatically and economically in the next 50 years. One reason is that ASEAN’s population will be considerably larger than Japan’s with a rising middle class and a more youthful demography. ASEAN is also a hub of East Asian multilateralism, such as the East Asian Summit. From the ASEAN point of view, Japanese diplomatic support and capacity-building to smaller Southeast Asian countries could deter threats from larger powers. Dr. Lam further encouraged Japanese companies to make high-quality Japanese infrastructure investments in Southeast Asia.

In his conclusion, Dr. Lam emphasized that both ASEAN and Japan should strengthen their relations for mutual support and benefits. Dr. Lam stressed that Japan and ASEAN should not be complacent about their good past relationship but must rather consciously nurture it for decades ahead. He concluded with the optimistic outlook that the next half century might be a golden age for the Japan-ASEAN ties, which would help underpin peace, stability, and prosperity for the Indo-Pacific.

The lecture was followed by a lively discussion with the audience, which consisted of representatives from KKC and Keidanren member companies.