ASIA NEWS NETWORK
WE KNOW ASIA BETTER
Initiatives toward Asean
Publication Date : 20-08-2013
In Thursday’s ceremony to mark the 68th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made no mention of Japan’s wartime aggression and skipped its usual pledge not to wage war again, provoking the ire and concern of South Koreans and other neighbours. His stance, which appeared in the context of his rejection of what is called by Japanese conservatives “apology diplomacy”, just reflected his distorted perception of history.
In her Liberation Day speech, also given Thursday to mark the end of Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, President Park Geun-hye noted “it is time for the political leaders of Japan to show us a leadership of courage that seeks to heal the wounds of the past”. This hope does not seem likely to be achieved anytime soon, considering the anachronistic course being pursued by Abe and his right-wing political colleagues.
Some commentators here try to draw attention to Abe’s diplomatic initiatives toward Southeast Asian countries beyond his moves that turn a blind eye to historical truths. In line with their arguments, Seoul needs to respond more urgently to Tokyo’s “charming diplomacy” targeting members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Since retaking the premiership in December, Abe has made three rounds of trips to Southeast Asian countries, holding summits with seven of the 10 Asean member states’ leaders. His aggressive approach, backed by Tokyo’s massive financial aid, appears aimed at forging a united front against an increasingly assertive China and expanding Japan’s economic clout in the region.
South Korea is in no position to let itself be pushed away by Japan and other powers such as the US and China from the regional bloc, which is emerging as the next growth engine of the global economy.
The combined gross domestic product of the Asean members is expected to reach some US$2.53 trillion this year, a whopping 65 per cent increase over five years, according to the International Monetary Fund. Yet the average per capita annual income of its 620 million people remains far below $6,000, indicating the region’s huge growth potential.
What gave a sense of urgency to strengthening cooperation with Southeast Asia was recent data from the Korea International Trade Association, which showed South Korea’s exports to Asean members dropped by 5.4 per cent from a year earlier in July, marking the first monthly reduction since a 0.9 per cent decline in September 2012.
It may be understandable that President Park had to focus her diplomatic push on consolidating ties with US and Chinese leaders during her first months in office. As she is apparently aware, however, she needs to redouble efforts in the coming period to catch up with Abe’s groundwork in the region.