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Pavin Chachavalpongpun For The Straits Times

Japan vies with China for Asean's favour

Published on Apr 10, 2014 12:07 PM
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam on March 23, 2014. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP

Early last month, the Japan Foundation announced plans to send about 3,000 assistant Japanese language teachers to the 10 members of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) by 2020. Scheduled to begin this month, the 30 billion yen (S$367 million) project will recruit university students and senior citizens to teach in local secondary schools.

The move, said the foundation, is aimed at deepening ties between Japan and Asean members. An initial group of language teachers is due to leave for Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines in September.

Japan has enjoyed amicable relations with Asean since it was granted dialogue partner status in 1977 - the year the Fukuda Doctrine, designed to strengthen relations with South-east Asia, was launched. But unlike other key partners of Asean, Japan has been constrained by the need to invest its primary diplomatic energy in its relationship with the United States. From Japan's perspective, this was a foreign policy imperative it could not ignore. So, while Asean was an important partner, it was not a strategic one.

Lately, however, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government has been paying more attention to South-east Asia.

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Background story

The approach of Japan and China towards Asean and South-east Asia in general also reflects differing approaches towards regionalism in the pursuit of their respective national interests... The rivalry may also provide some room for manoeuvre for Asean when it comes to issues related to sovereignty, such as territorial disputes.