Japan's Evolving Relationship with Southeast Asia: Prospects for US-Japan Cooperation


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When: Mar 5 2014 - 12:00pm until Mar 5 2014 - 1:30pm
Where: 1819 L St, NW, Washington, DC. Sixth Floor Conference Room

Japan's Evolving Relationship with Southeast Asia: Prospects for US-Japan Cooperation

An Asia Pacific Security Seminar featuring:

Dr. Nobuhiro Aizawa
Researcher, Institute of Developing Economies, Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO)

In his talk at the East-West Center in Washington, Dr. Nobuhiro Aizawa, a researcher at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), sought to explain Japan's expanding strategic interest in Southeast Asia, beyond its historical development activities.

While renewed and expanded engagement with Southeast Asia is a core element of the United States’ rebalance towards Asia, it is not alone in pursuing a strategy of reengagement with this dynamic region. Japan has long been involved in Southeast Asia, with a decades-long track record of overseas development assistance (ODA) and trade and investment. Recently however, Tokyo has taken steps to cultivate and strengthen strategic ties with the region as well. In 2013, the first year of his second administration, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited each of the ten ASEAN countries, and advocated increased security and economic cooperation in many of his stops. This overlap of interests as both allies seek greater economic, development, and security engagement in Southeast Asia could be a new area of cooperation for Japan and the US.

In his talk at the East-West Center in Washington, Dr. Nobuhiro Aizawa explained Japan's evolving relations with Southeast Asia, particularly from the strategic perspective. He began with a bit of background why the strategic significance of the region has recently increased for Japan beyond historical levels. Part of it is the growth of Southeast Asia itself, with a huge population and growing middle class. Meanwhile as Japan ages and its population shrinks, Japan is in a situation where it is "in need of friends to cooperate with." As he pointed out, while relations with its neighbors at a low point, in Southeast Asia polls show a 96% favorability toward Japan.

This reflects Japan's core interests in ASEAN that are driving its policy, which Dr. Aizawa listed as: buffering the effects of its aging society, the strategic importance of the region (particularly in the maritime sphere as it relates to trade and energy flows), developing a consensus on rule of law among all countries in a region undergoing a power shift, and competing for legitimacy-which he argues is the real competition underway in Asia.

With the changes underway in Southeast Asian societies and economies, Japan has found ways new engage with the ASEAN countries to help promote the stable development that is key to Japan's interests, as well as that of the United States. While the two allies share these strategic interests in the area, many of their areas of focus are distinct but complementary. For instance, as the nations in Southeast Asia continue to democratize, while the US focus has been on elections and promoting civil liberties, Japan's approach has focused on good governance, and bureaucracy development, Aizawa explained. Concerned with the instability caused by economic disparity in and among the Southeast Asian countries, Japan has also been strategically targeting its development assistance to undeserved areas, among other approaches.

Finally, in order to expand its Southeast Asia policy, Japan has had to take a look at what it can uniquely offer to the region. China has more economic capacity, and the US more security capacity. Japan's strength, explained Dr. Aizawa is resilience. It has experienced all manner of disasters, natural and otherwise, and has the roadmap for the sort of capacity building that a similarly stricken ASEAN is in need of. Japan will likely focus on this, as well as human security, as it pursues new areas for legitimacy and leadership in the region.

Dr. Nobuhiro Aizawa is a researcher at the Institute of Developing Economies at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO). Prior to joining IDE, Dr. Aizawa worked at the National Graduate Institute of Policy Studies until 200. In 2010, he was a Visiting Fellow at Cornell University and in 2011 he was a Visiting Fellow at Chulalongkorn University. His academic areas of interest are: Indonesia and Thai politics, Urban Politics in Southeast Asia, and Overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia. Dr. Aizawa received his Studies from Kyoto University in 2006, and his Bachelor’s Degree in Law from the University of Tokyo in 2001.

Primary Contact Info:
Name: Grace Ruch Clegg
Phone: 202-327-9762