Japan is Back: Tokyo’s Reengagement with Southeast Asia


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When: Mar 20 2014 - 12:00pm until Mar 20 2014 - 1:30pm
Where: 1819 L St, NW, Washington, DC. Sixth Floor Conference Room

Japan is Back: Tokyo’s Reengagement with Southeast Asia

An Asia Pacific Political Economy Seminar:

Dr. Tsutomu Kikuchi
Professor, Department of International Politics, Aoyama-Gakuin University, Tokyo
Adjunct Fellow, Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA)

Dr. Ellen Frost (Moderator)
Adjunct Senior Fellow, East-West Center
Visiting Distinguished Research Fellow, National Defense University

In his talk at the East-West Center, Dr. Tsutomu Kikuchi shared his expertise on Japan's engagement with ASEAN, and why it has taken on greater priority in Tokyo policy circles.

Since the 1970s, Japan has established close and cooperative relations with the ASEAN countries in both economic and political areas. Encouraged by recent grave economic and strategic transformations of Asia, Japan is “re-discovering” the importance of Southeast Asia in its economic and security policies. This was clearly demonstrated by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits to all the capitals of the ASEAN member countries within one year since his return to office in late 2012. Dr. Tsutomu Kikuchi addressed the background of Japan’s current policy and explained the challenges and tasks facing Japan in its approach to Southeast Asia.

As Dr. Kikuchi explained, engagement with Southeast Asia, particularly through ODA, trade, and cultural exchanges, was key a key component of Japan's post-war prosperity. Japan never withdrew from the region, but its presence became less visible in the past decade due to a combination of its relative economic and demographic decline, and the rise of other powers in Asia. However, these very factors lie at the heart of the "Why ASEAN?" and "Why now?" aspects of Japan's policy thrust.

Dr. Kikuchi described Japan as being in a state of deep insecurity as economic and security uncertainty make it impossible for Japan to enjoy a "graceful decline" in regional prominence. It is actively "looking for people and countries willing to work for Japan to help sustain its economic prosperity," he explained. Southeast Asia has huge economic potential with expanding markets where existing Japanese production networks can give it an edge. It is also an area of strategic importance being courted by China and the United States. Finally, Southeast Asia is home to a number of "secondary powers" that have significant economic and/or military potential and a desire to play a greater role in regional affairs. These nations are "gradually committed" to the liberal international order, but not fully enmeshed into it--an area where Japan sees an opportunity to encourage their development in a favorable direction for their economic and regional stability interests.

In addition to traditional bilateral economic interaction through trade and ODA, the role of ASEAN has become important to Japan's engagement with these countries. Much of Japan's regional agenda is geared toward bringing the idea of a unified ASEAN community info fruition. This has included efforts to encourage its cohesion, and strengthen its capacity to both cope with regional challenges and develop a civil society that embraces global rules and norms (such as democracy, rule of law, human rights etc.)

In terms of dovetailing with US policies in Southeast Asia, however, it is in the security realm that Japan's efforts most complement US engagement. Both allies place a high priority on maritime security to protect the important trade routes that cross the area, and damping tensions over disputed territory in the South China Sea. Japan has taken the lead in enhancing the capabilities of the coast guards in many Southeast Asia countries in order to increase their contribution to regional non-traditional security; thus contributing to Japan's economic and stability interests in the area.

For more photos from this event, please visit the East-West Center's Flickr page here.

Dr. Tsutomu Kikuchi is Professor at the Department of International Politics, Aoyama-Gakuin University, Tokyo, Japan. He has been an adjunct fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA) for more than 20 years, specializing in international political economy of the Asia-Pacific. He was a visiting fellow at the Australian National University in Canberra and the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, a visiting professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and consultant for the Asia Development Bank (ADB).

Dr. Kikuchi has been actively engaged in various “Track 2” activities and international research projects conducted under such regional institutions as PECC (Pacific Economic Cooperation Council) and CSCAP (Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific). He has published many books and articles on international political economy of the Asia-Pacific. He obtained his doctoral degree from Hitotsubashi University, Tokyo, Japan.

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