By The Editors
Tokyo, May 23, 2016
Earlier this month, Japan announced a three-year, $7 billion investment deal with the countries of the lower Mekong River to boost development and improve infrastructure. In an email interview, Phuong Nguyen, an associate fellow with the Southeast Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, discussed Japan’s relations in Southeast Asia.
WPR: How extensive are Japan’s ties in Southeast Asia, and with what countries does Japan have the closest relations?
Phuong Nguyen: Japan has a long history with Southeast Asia dating back to the World War II period. Southeast Asia functioned as an important source of resources and later as a market for Japan’s economic recovery after the end of World War II. Thailand, which was allied with Japan during the war, emerged during this period as the regional base for Japan’s economic activities. Tokyo began to formulate a region-wide strategy with the 1977 Fukuda Doctrine, in which Japan stressed the building of mutual trust with Southeast Asia and pledged to forever renounce military power. Economic linkages have come to define Japan’s postwar engagement with Southeast Asia.
Thailand has long been the regional base for Japanese multinationals—some 5,000 Japanese companies operate there—and ties between Bangkok and Tokyo are extremely close. However, Japan in recent years has begun to foster closer security cooperation with Vietnam and the Philippines as part of its strategy to counter China’s aggressive maritime posture in the South China Sea. Vietnam, for example, has risen to become the largest recipient of Japan’s official development assistance. Meanwhile, Japan and the Philippines earlier this year inked a defense agreement that will allow Tokyo to transfer defense technology to Manila—the first such agreement it has signed with a Southeast Asian country.