Japan Firms Up “Southeast Asia Horizon” with Kishida’s Indo-Pacific Speech in India
Plus China-Cambodia military exercise "expansion"; Indonesia's "without the box" capital city relocation plan; and more.
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Japan Firms Up “Southeast Asia Horizon” in Kishida’s Indo-Pacific Speech
Buried under the avalanche of headlines following Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s Indo-Pacific speech in India was the fact that he expanded selectively on the Southeast Asia component of Japan’s overall regional strategy during the landmark 50-year friendship anniversary of Japan-ASEAN ties.
What’s Behind It:
Kishida’s Indo-Pacific speech is just the latest in a series of engagements where he has built out Japan’s regional approach and Southeast Asia’s role within it. Indeed, close observers will note that what Kishida said in this speech was similar to what he already outlined at the Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD) in Singapore last June (see the below table for some initiatives he mentioned by area in the speech). There are a series of commemorative events planned between Japan and ASEAN out to the end of the year, cultimating in a summit meeting.
While the speech did touch on some more tangible areas, others are expected to be more developed closer to the end of the year. For instance, Japan is expected to play a key role in helping mainstream the previously moribund ASEAN Outlook for the Indo-Pacific under the ASEAN chairmanship held by Indonesia this year, which Jakarta has helped keep alive within the grouping. Kishida also said less about the economic security dimensions of Japan’s engagement with Southeast Asia such as supply chains — at the SLD, he had said that Tokyo would support more than 100 supply chain resilience projects over the next five years.
Why It Matters:
The speech reinforces the fact that Southeast Asia constitutes a primary theater within which Tokyo is advancing its Indo-Pacific approach. Southeast Asia appeared first in terms of subregional sequencing in both this Kishida speech and the one at the SLD last year: in this speech, South Asia was added as a “next horizon” after Southeast Asia and before the Pacific Islands.
Despite Tokyo’s progress thus far, Japanese officials themselves also acknowledge that they need to adjust engagement with Southeast Asia where needed and calibrate this with other commitments to avoid falling behind in a more competitive geopolitical environment. For a recent, concise and public example of this, check out Japan ambassador to Indonesia Kenji Kanasugi’s candid op-ed in Nikkei Asia last month. Kishida has also continued to stress the theme of incorporating perspectives from the “Global South,” in recognition of divergent views both there and within Southeast Asia itself on issues like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Where It’s Headed:
How Japan follows through on these proposals with Southeast Asia through the rest of 2023 into 2024 will be notable to watch, amid the goal of a coming upgrade to an ASEAN-Japan comprehensive strategic partnership. Though ASEAN had traditionally not viewed the partnership as a strict elevation, it has effectively become what one diplomat summarized as a “new reach goal” for major powers in terms of ASEAN engagement. Japan’s upgrade would follow ones for the United States and India in 2022, and Australia and China in 2021.
Tokyo’s ties with smaller Southeast Asian countries will likely continue to be an important but underappreciated storyline. Japan has helped serve as rare source of alignment diversification for countries otherwise growing more dependent on China like Cambodia, which will go through a period of recalibration of alignments with its elections this year. Tokyo has also made it a point to publicly emphasize its cultivation of ties with countries like Brunei and Timor-Leste which may be otherwise left out in more narrower, selective approaches to engaging Southeast Asia by major powers.
Southeast Asia and US-China Tech Competition; Malaysia’s “100 KL” Deforestation Challenge; 2023 Regional Terrorism Landscape
“This is an area 100 times the size of WPKL and is larger than the size of Perak, Penang and Melaka states combined,” notes a new headline-grabbing environmental security report by climate group RimbaWatch regarding the size of potential deforestation areas due largely to palm oil and timber plantations in Malaysia. The study estimates that 2,346,601 hectares of forests have been earmarked for deforestation, and that, should this occur, Malaysia’s forest cover would decrease to about 47.35 percent of its total land area, which is below its commitment to maintain this at 50 percent. The report, widely cited across media outlets, has already seen some rejection from Malaysian authorities. You can read the full report here.
“The process of empowering Southeast Asia’s agency and autonomy in the tech space itself has two prerequisites: countries being clear about their individual and collective priorities as a region; and nations engaging more widely with other parts of the majority world – notably Latin America and Africa…,” reads a piece over at AsiaGlobal Online on Southeast Asia’s role amid U.S.-China tech competition. The article argues that Southeast Asian countries can leverage opportunities that emerge out of that competition in areas like semiconductors and play a proactive role in technical standards-setting across major bodies.
“A former IS member who spoke with Nikkei by phone said that 90% of IS recruitment is done via social media… he warned that propaganda from IS remains potent, adding that IS recently released an audio recording calling for supporters to make a baiat (pledge of allegiance) to the new caliph...and to carry out terrorist attacks,” notes a piece over at Nikkei Asia on the outlook for terrorism in Southeast Asia out to 2024, which will see some consequential events including Indonesia’s expected presidential elections. It looks mainly at the Islamic State, Jemaah Islamiyah and Jemaah Ansharut Daulah in a context that is quite distinct from either the 2000s in the post-September 11 period or the 2010s when Islamic State fears were at their height in the region, best epitomized by the 2017 siege of Marawi in the southern Philippines.