Japan yesterday pledged ￥20 trillion (US$19.4 billion) in aid to Southeast Asian nations over the next five years to help close the region’s development gap and improve its disaster preparedness.
The announcement at a summit meeting with the 10-member ASEAN comes as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has stepped up Japan’s courtship of the region of more than 600 million people, an agenda that has gained momentum in reaction to China’s growing assertiveness in territorial disputes.
The development assistance — mainly in the form of concessional loans — also will focus on efforts to promote development in the Mekong River region where economies have lagged behind. It will also fund transport projects.
The summit held in Tokyo marks 40 years of ties between Japan and ASEAN.
In a speech on Friday, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono welcomed Japan’s efforts to fortify regional security, but urged transparency in Tokyo’s efforts to raise its military profile.
Much of Asia suffered under Japanese occupation in World War II and its leaders have been wary of a potential resurgence of Japanese militarism.
Japan has been stepping up economic cooperation and investment across Southeast Asia, especially since last year, when anti-Japanese riots flared in China after Tokyo nationalized several islands in a chain in the East China Sea. Japan calls these islands the Senkakus and they are also claimed by Taipei and Beijing, which know them as the Diaoyutais (釣魚台) and the Diaoyu Archipelego (釣魚群島) respectively.
As the world’s third-largest economy, Japan also plays a crucial role in Asian finance.
On Friday, Tokyo agreed to expand currency swaps and other arrangements with Indonesia and the Philippines that are meant to help stabilize Asian financial markets.
Japan also renewed a swap agreement with Singapore, the Finance Ministry said.
In the first six months of this year, Japanese investment in Southeast Asia jumped 89 percent to nearly ￥1 trillion, and automakers and electronics companies expanded their factories in the region.