ISEAS–Sasakawa Peace Foundation Joint Seminar On “ASEAN-Japan Relations in the Evolving World Order”

In this hybrid seminar, the panellists examined regional perceptions of Japan’s geo-political and socio-economic influence, and shared their thoughts on the future prospects of ASEAN-Japan relations.


Tuesday, 28 March 2023 – The ASEAN Studies Centre at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation (SPF) held a joint hybrid seminar on “ASEAN-Japan Relations in the Evolving World Order”. The seminar discussed ASEAN-Japan relations and Japan’s economic and security influence in the region, using the findings of the ISEAS’ State of Southeast Asia 2023 survey, and a comparative study on country-level views towards Japan that was conducted in the Philippines and Indonesia in 2022-2023 with the support of the SPF. The seminar commemorates the 50th anniversary of ASEAN-Japan Friendship and Cooperation in 2023.

Mr Choi Shing Kwok delivered his Welcome Remarks. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

In his Welcome Remarks, Mr Choi Shing Kwok, Director and CEO of the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute highlighted Japan’s role as the very first ASEAN Dialogue Partner in ASEAN’s development in the past five decades, its steadfast support to the region’s socio-economic development, and significant ODA provision to the less developed ASEAN member states. He spoke of Japan’s recent commitments in providing financial loans as part of its support to the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework, and assisting the sustainable development growth of the region with the launch of the Asia Energy Transition Initiative and the Asia Zero Emissions Community. On the political and security sphere, Mr Choi spoke of Japan’s role and security influence as an important factor for peace and stability in the region. Japan is one of ASEAN’s most active Dialogue Partners in ASEAN-led mechanisms, including the ASEAN Regional Forum, ASEAN Plus Three, the East Asia Summit, ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus, and the Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum, and is committed to supporting ASEAN centrality and its various initiatives, including the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific. As the region is dealing with complex forces that are different from those of the last five decades, ASEAN needs to stay united to manage its relations with the major powers and other key external partners in an inclusive and constructive manner. He highlighted that, as a responsible member of the international community and a strong supporter of the rule of law, Japan shares many of ASEAN’s objectives, and there will be many opportunities for cooperation between ASEAN and Japan to strengthen global governance structures and enhance the regional security and economic architecture.

Mr Nobuyuki Konishi delivered the Opening Remarks virtually. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

In his Opening Remarks, Mr Nobuyuki Konishi, Director of Asia and Middle East Programme at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation spoke of the relationship of mutual interest, confidence and trust that Japan has built up with Southeast Asian countries in a wide range of fields in the past decades. Attributing to the 1977 Fukuda Doctrine that outlined the principles of Japan’s diplomacy with ASEAN, he highlighted the heart-to-heart understanding and partnership that has been the foundation for ASEAN-Japan friendship and cooperation, and shaped each other’s policies towards peace and prosperity in the region. Mr Konishi reiterated that, in the context of unprecedented challenges and great uncertainty as the region is still recovering from profound socio-economic impacts caused by the pandemic while continues to face intense geopolitical volatilities, international cooperation needs to be further promoted. In this regard, he highlighted that the findings of the ISEAS’ annual State of Southeast Asia Survey and the comparative study on ASEAN-Japan relations supported by the SPF would help to enhance collective understanding of the region, as well as inform or influence policy on regional political, economic and social issues and concerns.

From left to right: Dr Yohanes I Wayan Marianta, Ms Sharon Seah (moderator), Dr Leslie V. Advincula-Lopez, Dr Saya Kiba and Ms Joanne Lin. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

The panel discussion that followed was joined by Ms Joanne Lin, Dr Saya Kiba, Dr Leslie V. Advincula-Lopez, and Dr Yohanes I Wayan Marianta. Ms Sharon Seah, Senior Fellow and Coordinator of the ASEAN Studies Centre, moderated the discussion.

Ms Joanne Lin, Co-coordinator of the ASEAN Studies Centre at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, kicked-off discussions by highlighting Japan as a strong voice in promoting multilateralism as signified through the recent high-level visits by Prime Minister Kishida to India, Ukraine, and Poland. Referencing results of The State of Southeast Asia 2023 Survey Report, Ms Lin emphasised that the region’s trust perceptions towards Japan is the highest compared to other major powers, with respondents recognising the country as a responsible stakeholder in maintaining international law, provider of ODA to the region, and positive soft power. On the future prospects of relations, Ms Lin shared the region’s apprehension towards Japan’s military modernisation, and was of the view that collaboration should focus on the key areas of connectivity, digitalisation, trade, and quality infrastructure – those areas that have proved positive for its trust ratings and could be strengthened given its G7 presidency this year.

Dr Saya Kiba, Associate Professor at Kobe University of Foreign Studies, continued with an explanation of the changing nature of Japanese assistance to the region to include defence equipment and technology, as well as capacity-building by the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (JSDF), on top of the traditional official development assistance. While the Fukuda Doctrine continues to govern Japan’s relations with its Southeast Asian neighbours, Dr Kiba shared that her research aimed at gauging regional perceptions towards Japan – in comparison to the US and China – given the release of new security policies. She provided an overview of the methodology, which combined elite interviews, media content analysis, and quantitative surveys conducted across multiple countries in the region. To get a better understanding of regional sentiments towards Japan outside of the US-China lens, Dr Kiba shared that there was a change in methodology in the second year of research to only cover perceptions towards Japan.

Dr Leslie V. Advincula-Lopez, Director of the Development Studies Programme at Ateneo de Manila University explained the country-level results from the Philippines. She highlighted the changing alignments of the Philippine government under the Aquino, Duterte, and Marcos Jr. administrations, which impacted foreign policy priorities. Dr Lopez then elaborated on the research findings, which saw that Philippine respondents viewed Japan as a trustworthy ally and friend. She added that this was supported by the media analysis which reflected positive sentiments towards Japan, due to its ODA and soft power. On prospects for the future, Dr Lopez shared that Philippine respondents viewed Japan as an important security partner but saw inherent limitations to the partnership. She added that respondents viewed mini-lateral groupings as a potential solution to address security issues. 

Similarly, Dr Yohanes I Wayan Marianta, Lecturer at the Widya Sasana College of Philosophy and Theology, shared the key survey findings from Indonesia. While Indonesian respondents feel that the US-China rivalry will continue to shape the region, pressure for Indonesia to take sides is increasing. Despite this condition, Dr Marianta highlighted that Indonesia would continue to pursue its free and active foreign policy and view ASEAN as an indispensable part of its hedging strategy. On perception towards Japan, Indonesian respondents viewed Japan as its most trusted partner, given its reliability as an economic and development partner to help achieve its Vision 2045 and overcome the middle-income trap.

During the Q&A session, speakers discussed ways to elevate the ASEAN-Japan partnership and potential collaboration areas across the three ASEAN Communities.

The hybrid seminar was attended by 90 participants from the region and beyond.