By Roy Mabasa
Former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda on Monday underscored the importance of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for being the world’s growth center, a remarkable development 41 years after the unveiling of Japan’s foreign policy in the region.
In his keynote address at the symposium commemorating the founding of the Fukuda Doctrine at the historic Manila Hotel, the former Japanese leader said the economy of the 10 ASEAN members, including the Philippines, has the momentum to overtake that of Japan by year 2020.
Named after his father, former Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda, the Fukuda Doctrine was launched in August 1977 in a gathering of Southeast Asian leaders and representatives at the Manila Hotel.
The said doctrine would later become the blueprint of the overall foreign policy of Japan in the region.
“ASEAN’s economy has grown to account for 3.4 percent of the world economy today in terms of GDP (gross domestic product). It has established itself as the world’s growth center,” the former prime minister said.
The ASEAN’s momentum and energy, he added, is “extraordinary and is full of possibilities.”
Citing the importance of heart-to-heart relations between Japan and the ASEAN members, Fukuda called for more exchanges aimed at guiding the partnership to new heights.
“Let’s aim for a dynamic ASEAN by envisioning its future together with us, and an ASEAN whose contributions extend beyond this region,” the former top Japanese official said.
Fukuda said the unveiling of the Doctrine in Manila 41 years ago became a historically important opportunity to mark a new phase in Japanese diplomacy in Southeast Asia, with a greater majority of people in the region have regarded it “positively.”
Citing an opinion poll conducted in November last year about views on Japan among the 10 ASEAN countries, he noted that more than 90 percent of respondents felt Japan was “trustworthy.”
“I believe what is behind this result is the spirit of the Fukuda Doctrine, which widely permeated Southeast Asia, and the mutual trust that Japan and ASEAN countries have been able to build by developing heart to heart relations,” Fukuda said in the speech.
Prior to the symposium, the former Japanese prime minister led the unveiling of a marker honoring the launching of the Fukuda Doctrine at the Manila Hotel.
“I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude for the great honor of speaking to you on this day, when the memorial plaque of the Fukuda Doctrine announced by my father, Takeo Fukuda, was just installed at this illustrious Manila Hotel,” the younger Fukuda said.
The commemorative marker, a testimony to the enduring friendship between Japan and the peoples of ASEAN countries, was enshrined at the Heritage Hall of the Manila Hotel.
Manila Hotel Chairman Basilio Yap, who was present during the unveiling of the marker, said the Fukuda Doctrine serves as “a beacon light of guidance” to all Southeast Asian countries as it deals with today’s geopolitical realities.
“For over a century, the Manila Hotel has been as witness to history and has in fact been the venue of many historical events that have shaped the country’s destiny – as well as the future of the region,” Chairman Yap said in his welcome remarks.
The Doctrine articulated three important pillars of Japan’s policy in Southeast Asia, namely: 1) Japan will never become a military power, 2) Japan will build “heart to heart relations with ASEAN countries, and 3) Japan and ASEAN are equal partners.
According to Fukuda, the three principles were revolutionary at the time as it helped develop and implement initiatives such as the Ship for Southeast Asian and Japanese Youth Program (SSEAYP) and the Japan East Asia Network of Exchange for Students and Youth (JENESYS).
“The ties created through such youth exchange programs have become a great asset to Japan-ASEAN relations,” he said.
Among those who graced the event were Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Senator Franklin Drilon, Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Koji Haneda, Philippine Ambassador to Japan Jose Laurel, Philippine-Japan Society President Francis Laurel, former DFA Secretary Delia Albert and several family members and siblings of the late Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda.