MANILA, Philippines - For the first time since being ravaged by earthquakes, tsunamis and a nuclear crisis, Japan engaged in strengthening external relations, particularly with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The historic meeting happened at the ASEAN Secretariat with Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, ASEAN current chair, opening the affair on a friendly note.
“I hope we can work together, and that those countries which have similar facilities can offer their assistance towards Japan. We have all experienced disasters in the past. We all have expertise and wider experience,” Yudhoyono said.
Japanese Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto had a “heart-to-heart” engagement with his counterparts in the region, to seizing the triple tragedy that hit Japan as an opportunity to strengthen diplomatic relations.
Recalling Japan’s readiness to assist and aid ASEAN nations – particularly in times of natural calamities – Yudhoyono urged ASEAN member states to display solidarity with Japan in their reconstruction efforts.
Matsumoto shared Japan’s experience in tackling the Fukushima nuclear crisis. Developments at the crippled nuclear plant have hogged news headlines, as officials tried various methods to try to contain radiation leak.
Another area which the meeting explored is the role of the ASEAN Coordination Centre for Humanitarian Assistance or AHA.
The triple crises, described as the worst tragedy since World War II, further reinforced the importance of the operations of the AHA, particularly in risk identification and monitoring, as well as joint disaster relief and emergency responses.
“Through even closer cooperation and coordination, ASEAN and Japan can work together in the areas of disaster prevention and management, disaster relief operations,” said ASEAN Secretary-General, Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, adding that ASEAN and Japan are natural regional partners, in meeting future challenges.
However, while there is a need for economic recovery for Japan after the recent calamities, what is more immediately important is the human bonding among the people of Japan, said Dr. Surin.
Like Japan, several ASEAN member states are also vulnerable to natural calamities.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar and Thailand are regularly hit by typhoons, floods and cyclones, while Indonesia and the Philippines are also regular victims of earthquakes and other disasters.
The meeting also came thirty-four years after the inception the 1977 doctrine of Japanese Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda, which outlines Tokyo's three commitments to Southeast Asia: that Japan rejects the role of a military power; Japan will do its best to consolidate the relationship of mutual confidence and trust based on understanding; and last, but not least, Japan will be an equal partner of ASEAN.
Since then relations between the two sides have deepened, while economic cooperation blossomed.
Japan is one of ASEAN's most important trading partners, with total trade between the two exceeding US$160 billion in 2009. Japan has also been one of the top investors in ASEAN, with close to US$6 billion in the same year.