By Roy Mabasa
Unity within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is the “lifeline and guiding light” in resolving a contentious issue like the South China Sea, former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda told the Manila Bulletin on Sunday.
In a one-on-one interview, the former Japanese leader noted that the South China Sea is a serious issue that hinges upon maritime order.
Under such situation, “what’s called for in utmost is the firm resolution to maintain and uphold the unity of ASEAN.”
“The unity of ASEAN is the lifeline and guiding light in this region. I should like to see an action based on sensible thinking and reasonable act,” Fukuda said when asked how Japan could help unify the 10-member countries comprising the regional bloc amid the tension brought about by the maritime disputes.
Fukuda sat down for an exclusive interview on the eve of the commemoration of the 41styear of the launching of the Fukuda Doctrine at the historic Manila Hotel.
The former Japanese leader said it is something for everyone in the region to “look closely” whether China will continue to support the same thinking.
“In other words, here again a thorough-going solid discussion with China will be necessary,” he said, adding that Japan stands ready to support ASEAN members in their effort to achieve unity and centrality.
Rise of China
While admitting that China’s influence is being felt in the region, Fukuda pointed out that such occurrence is only about “projection of power.”
“China will not be able to exercise this influence any longer or solidify its presence,” he stressed.
Fukuda, who served as prime minister from 2006 to 2007, said one key to maintaining strategic balance in the region is to “stabilize” the relationship between the two largest economies in Asia – Japan and China.
He believes that a stabilized Japan-China relation would exert a good influence on ASEAN and on other regions, as well.
“Unless we try to achieve this, we will not be able to see the development of this region as a whole,” Fukuda said.
Indo-Pacific and ASEAN
With all the challenges facing the region, Fukuda said the Indo-Pacific strategic alliance is important in helping the ASEAN respond to issues such as piracy, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and natural disasters in prone areas like Indonesia, Japan and the Philippines.
More than half of the world’s population resides in the Indo-Pacific region, and ASEAN is geographically situated right in its center.
“How to resolve these issues is very important and these are the type of issues ASEAN alone will not be able to resolve,” he said.
First and foremost, Fukuda hopes that surrounding countries like Japan and others would cooperate with ASEAN.
“Having ASEAN in the center, this is something we place a great importance on,” he said.
During the interview, Fukuda painted a very rosy picture of the Japan and ASEAN relations over the last four decades since his father –former Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda –unveiled what is now known as the Fukuda Doctrine.
Fukuda Doctrine, which continues to serve as the guiding principle of Japan’s diplomatic relations with Southeast Asian countries, was formally introduced before a gathering of Southeast Asian leaders and representatives at the Manila Hotel in August 1977.
Former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos and Foreign Affairs Secretary Carlos P. Romulo were among the dignitaries who witnessed the launching of the Fukuda Doctrine, a major post-war Japanese foreign policy towards Southeast Asia.
“All in all the relationship between Japan and ASEAN continue to develop in a very smooth manner without a hitch. In the past 40 years, consistently we have witnessed the strengthening of our relationship year after year,” he said.
Citing the latest statistics, Fukuda said the number of Japanese companies, manufacturing facilities and production plants established in ASEAN is now more than 12,000.
On top of this, the number of Japanese residing in ASEAN countries is now close to 200,000 while the number of Japanese tourists has increased from 870,000 in 2010 to 3.15 million in 2017.
Fukuda made a special mention of the Philippines for the important role it played in the development of the Japan-ASEAN relations. In November last year, Manila hosted the 50thfounding anniversary of the ASEAN.
“We highly appreciate the position and role of the Philippines as a stable power and the point of stability. We do hope and expect that such role of the Philippines will continue,” the former Japanese leader said.