Japan, ASEAN on same Indo-Pacific page: PM Suga

By Viet Anh, Vu Anh   October 20, 2020 | 05:05 am PT
Japan, ASEAN on same Indo-Pacific page: PM Suga
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks during his meeting with Vietnamese students in Hanoi, October 19, 2020. Photo courtesy of Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet portal.
Japan's free and open policy and ASEAN's vision for the Indo-Pacific region share many basic principles, says Japanese PM Youshihide Suga.

He said Monday that shared values and principles will help Japan and ASEAN surmount obstacles and enable a peaceful, prosperous future.

Suga believes the key to help ASEAN and Japan overcome challenges and cooperate with each other is "to fully share basic principles such as respecting the rule of law, openness, freedom, transparency and inclusiveness, those that have taken root in our communities."

He made these statements when meeting with students of the Vietnam Japan University at the Vietnam National University in Hanoi.

The PM drew applause as he started his speech at the meeting, held at the Vietnam Japan University, in Vietnamese. "Hello. I am Suga Yoshihide. I love Vietnam, I love ASEAN," he said.

Suga had arrived in Vietnam Sunday evening on a three-day official visit, marking the first foreign trip since he took office last month.

Elaborating further on the common view on the Indo-Pacific region, he cited the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP) released last year.

"The fact that it shares many fundamental commonalities with the "Free and Open Indo-Pacific" Japan is advocating for is tremendously encouraging for me. I strongly support the AOIP. I firmly believe that we can create a peaceful and prosperous future along with ASEAN with these fundamental values in common."

Suga also said many developments in the South China Sea, which Vietnam calls the East Sea, have gone against values upheld by the AOIP.

"Japan is strongly opposed to any actions that escalate tensions in the South China Sea. Japan has been consistently supporting the preservation of the rule of law in seas. I would like to reemphasize the importance for all parties concerning the South China Sea issues to work towards the peaceful resolution of disputes based on international law instead of resorting to force or coercion," he said, adding that Japan will work with ASEAN to uphold the rule of law in the seas and oceans.

Japan has provided patrol boats and maritime security equipment to Vietnam, the Philippines and other countries. We also promote human resource development via training, as well as deployment of specialists to coastal countries along maritime routes such as Indonesia and Malaysia.

"Japan will spare no effort to offer cooperation for this purpose," Suga said.

The Japanese PM said the path he has outlined could be similar to the one that Japan took after the war, going from zero to development through relentless efforts.

That path, he said, may be similar to that of ASEAN, with the block taking remarkable strides and becoming the hub of global growth.

"This explains why I feel a sense of affinity with your country and ASEAN," he told Vietnamese students.

For the future, Suga said, Japan wants to strengthen connections with the region in both hard infrastructure – the physical infrastructure of roads, bridges, tunnels, railways, ports, and harbors, among others; and soft infrastructure – all services required to maintain the economic, health, and cultural and social lives of the people.

Japan would particularly like to boost connections in the supply chain via investments by Japanese companies in ASEAN, he said.

Suga said the pandemic has proved how supply chains could be broken and why it was necessary to build stable chains and improve their stability to keep them from being broken.

"Many Japanese companies are striving to diversify supply chains by extending them to ASEAN. Japan will further strengthen cooperation with ASEAN to increase the resilience of supply chains and build economies in Asia that are resilient to crises," he said.

Before his talk with the students, Suga had met with his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc Monday morning.

Both sides pledged to deepen bilateral relationship, restore and continue cooperation under new normal conditions in different fields, and agreed to enhance political trust and cooperation in security and defense.

They also agreed to cooperate in areas affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. The two sides signed 12 agreements to boost ties in economy, environment, public infrastructure, healthcare, agriculture, and energy.

‘Big enough’

Vietnamese PM Phuc had said last month Vietnam’s market was big enough for ambitious business investment plans, as well as the business restructuring and supply chain transformation strategies of Japanese investors.

His statement came after the Japan External Trade Organization (Jetro) had announced that 15 Japanese firms had registered to shift their production from China to Vietnam.

Japan had also said it would support ASEAN in the process of building principles based on Data Free Flow with Trust (DFFT). In a landmark speech at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2019 in Davos, Switzerland, Japan’s former PM Shinzo Abe had invited leaders to build an international order for DFFT, or a move to create a set of international rules enabling free movement of data across borders.

Japan has also said it will join ASEAN in promoting the digitization of the economy and society and enhancing digital connectivity, which are activities developed as responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has restricted direct contact between people.

Vietnam and Japan established diplomatic ties in 1973, upgrading bilateral ties to a strategic partnership in 2009, and to an extensive strategic partnership in 2014.

PM Suga, 71, became Prime Minister of Japan after a parliamentary vote on September 16, replacing Abe, who resigned with his cabinet, citing health problems.

This is the second consecutive time a Japanese prime minister has chosen Vietnam as the first overseas destination after taking office. The first was Japanese PM Abe in 2013.

PM Suga leaves Vietnam Tuesday and heads to Indonesia on the next leg of his first overseas visit.

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