Thu, 04 Dec 2003

Security key factor in Japan-ASEAN relations

Bantarto Bandoro, Editor, 'The Indonesian Quarterly', Centre For Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Jakarta,

The diplomatic fallout from the Bali ASEAN summit is still being felt in the region, as Japan prepares to host a summit with the 10 members of ASEAN early next month. It is reported that during such a meeting Japan will express its intention to be officially part of ASEAN's Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC).

If Japan were to ink the 27-year-old TAC, a nonaggression pact in which the members pledge respect for each other's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, its decision would come only a month after China and India signed the treaty.

The signing of the treaty by Japan would not only mean that it would become further involved in the political affairs of ASEAN, but it would also beef up Japan's regional security role. Japan, for its part, was apparently concerned that given China's rising presence, its political and economic influence in Southeast Asia would decline if the government in Tokyo failed to show its commitment to the region. The emergence of more acute international problems such as terrorism and its security and economic impacts, and the need to tackle it through collaborative efforts, might also have been reasons for Japan to sign the TAC.

Japan now realizes that in an era of a high degree of interconnectedness, there needs to be new light shed on Japan- ASEAN relations, and Japan's commitment in particular. Japan- ASEAN relations are no longer viewed from a donor-recipient perspective.

In the eyes of Japanese leaders, the strengthening of security bonds between Japan and ASEAN is a top diplomatic priority and there is an equally strong expectation in ASEAN that Japan can play an active security role in the region, particularly when both sides are facing tremendous new geopolitical challenges .

The accession by Japan to the ASEAN TAC will certainly signify the importance of strengthening the political, economic and security relationship as a common objective of Japan and ASEAN. This is not only good for ASEAN, but also for long-term stability and security in the region. One should not, therefore, see Japan's accession as merely a token of friendship.

Japan-ASEAN relations have experienced fewer problems compared with Japan-U.S. relations. It was only in 1974 that the relationship between Japan and ASEAN reached a critical point. Massive street demonstrations in the capital cities of some ASEAN members countries protested the policy of Japan in the region.

Given the importance of relations between the two sides for the security of the region in the long term, Japan, in 1997, initiated the "Fukuda doctrine," named after former Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda, Koizumi's political mentor, which puts Japan and ASEAN on an equal partnership. Now that 25 years have passed since Fukuda announced his policy and a significant number of ASEAN nations have made democratic progress, Japan feels the need to develop new approaches in the Japan-ASEAN relationship. The plan by Japan to accede to TAC must be viewed from such a perspective. By signing TAC, Japan wants to reaffirm its "security partnership" with ASEAN.

The relationship between Japan and ASEAN has been largely an economic affair. But given current changes in the strategic environment of the region, cooperation in the field of security is too important to be ignored by Japan and ASEAN. Now is the time for both sides to look beyond traditional areas of trade, investment and aid. Issues such as piracy, energy security and terrorism must be tackled jointly if Japan and ASEAN are to be seen as effective and productive partners in the field of security. It is to be hoped that the accession of Japan to TAC will intensify Japan-ASEAN security cooperation.

Japan's decision to accede to TAC might be seen as a follow-up to Koizumi's trip to Southeast Asia last year, when he articulated the concept of regional community. No Japanese leader before him had made such a proposal. Security cooperation is one of the five key areas of cooperation envisioned by such a concept.

Japan might have its own interpretation of TAC, such that it considered it important to solve regional security issues together with ASEAN and within the framework of community. It is not an exaggeration to say that ASEAN's own concept of community, introduced during the Bali summit, has drawn sympathy from the Japanese in a way that Japan also feels the need to advance stability and security in the region through TAC.

It was inevitable that Japan-ASEAN ties would evolve to cover political and security concerns, as both have been called upon to play a larger, more constructive regional security role. Japan might have anticipated that future regional security issues would stem from inside as well as outside the immediate region. Japan could not sit idly by as new security issues impacted on Japan's security. It is therefore a priority for Japan to construct a new style of cooperation between Japan and ASEAN for the sake of long-term regional stability.

Japan's decision to sign TAC clearly reflects a change in the way of thinking of the country on how new security challenges have to be managed. It is a political reality that ASEAN is just on Japan's doorstep, meaning that whatever security turbulence occurs in ASEAN would unintentionally, but directly affect Japan's security. There is simply no way for Japan to prevent spillover effects, but rather, it must strengthen security ties with ASEAN by making the best use of its accession to TAC.