Japan and Southeast Asia in the 21st Centuryat Hotel Ohkura, Tokyo 2 September 1994
Japan and Southeast Asia are two entities that are inextricably linked. Too much have happened between the two in this century, in war and in peace, that neither one could possibly be indifferent to the other. Japan had been, from the earliest days of this century, a source of inspiration for Southeast Asia's struggles of national liberation. She was the first Asian country to industrialize. Later, she demonstrated to us that the colonial powers were not invincible. Undeniably, the Second World War and Japan's Co-Prosperity Sphere had inflicted atrocities that continue to haunt her children. Yet, it is also Japanese investments that have powered Southeast Asia's leap in development, trans forming its rice fields into industrial estates and its sleepy towns into economic dynamos.
The economic realities of our time, and more so inthe future, will compel Japan and Southeast Asia to remain interdependent. However, our perception of Japan and our relations with her in the twenty-first century must be based on a judicious combination of idealism and realism. Our optimism in Japan's ability and willingness to engage herself in our region and to identify herself as an integral part of it, should also be tempered with a sense of history. This is necessary if we want to forge a stable, profound and mutually beneficial and enriching partnership. What we must avoid is the kind of relationship that oscillates between love and hate, between adoration and condescension.
Japan is a civilization in its own right. It has its own spiritual tradition and an artistic tradition that has produced unique genres, such as the haiku and the kabuki. Even today, only the pedestrian-minded, could fail to feel the cultural vibrancy of Japan. If Japan is viewed in such light, relations with Japan must necessarily be broad-based and comprehensive. Trouble begins when one succumbs to hypes and stereotypes: when one sees her as nothing but an economic juggernaut; when one is interested in nothing of Japan but her markets. However, Japan itself may have contributed to the making of such an image of herself by being largely indifferent to anything beyond economics in international forums, regionally or globally. It is this sort of partial and reductionist disposition among great nations that has begotten so much injury and injustices in the past. Of these, colonialism was the longest and the most devastating. I believe the time has come for Japan to go beyond economic opportunism, to articulate ethical and moral positions in many of the burning issues of our time and join the region in solidarity.
The great advantage of Southeast Asia is that she has been situated at the crossroads of great civilizations. Being so positioned, multiculturalism, over time, has been deeply woven into her identity. She is so diverse that it rules out any at tempt at hegemony, cultural or ethnic. Neither have we the illusion, nor the ambition, to turn Southeast Asia into a melting pot or a cultural cauldron to produce a regional identity at the expense of our national identities. Our identity lies in that diversity. It is through the common experience of diversity -- knowing, appreciating and respecting one another -- that we have been able to forge solidarity.
It is on this premise, Japan being a unique civilization and Southeast Asia a multicultural entity unrivalled anywhere else, that we must cement our partnership. Our concerns certainly transcend the current disputes, be it on market access or security arrangements. These issues are real yet far from irresolvable. As always in the past, parties have often crossed the path of another or find themselves at cross-purposes because of arrogance and the refusal to transcend th immediate or short-term towards a more profound understanding and mutually enriching partnership.
The expectation of Southeast Asia towards Japan is far from unrealistic, that is, its full participation within the East Asian region -- economically, politically and culturally -- in the making of the global twenty-first century. In all fairness, we beg to express our sincere incomprehension. Japan seems to oscillate between adventurism and indifference. The Co-prosperity Sphere and its attendant militaristic execution was a blunder, and must be recognized as such. Southeast Asia was terrorized for several years under the sway of the samurai sword. But the story is far from complete. Southeast Asia also had had her chance of indigenous development nipped in the bud by European powers, her wealth squandered and her culture and people brutalized for several countries. We cannot help but notice the subtle attempts to induce a kind of amnesia by downplaying all forms of imperialism and colonialism, apart from that of the Japanese, in the current global economic struggle.
To be sure, Japan cannot possibly escape from her history of military adventure in this century and the attendant moral in dictment. Nevertheless while we must learn from history, we should not allow ourselves to be paralyzed by it. We all have to transcend and overcome the past. To my mind, there is no better way to atone for the past than to wholeheartedly commit ourselves to the construction of a just and caring future.
Japans's presence is too immense and pervasive in today's global economy for her to remain splendidly aloof. Wealth and economic strength is not without its burden. Thus it is imperative that Japan exercise her influence derived from her wealth and economic strength correctly. Unless she master the courage to voice a moral position and act in accordance with principles of righteousness, the sense of disappointment in her and the bitterness against her will continue. She has to be empathetic not only to the views of other members of the Group of Seven but also to be sensitive to the impact of her decisions on the region developing countries as a whole. In her position as the only non-Western member of an exclusive club, it is not unreasonable for us to expect Japan to lend support for the views of developing countries, especially those of her neighbours. Japan's dismal reluctance to assume a leadership role and to become a voice of conscience in the world representing an Asian perspective is perplexing to many of us in Southeast Asia. Japan's ambivalence towards Asean's initiative to establish the East Asia Economic Caucus -- EAEC -- is indeed disappointing. We feel that is is not a matter in which we need to provide additional arguments to convince the Japanese elite, who are already well-informed about its rationale. However, in the final analysis, it is for the Japanese people to decide. But our fervent hope is that Japan will choose to remain an integral part of the Asian mosaic.
As a global economic power Japan must shoulder the responsibility of remaking the twenty-first century economic arrangement. Reforming the global economic arrangement would mean progressively reducing trade barriers to enable developing countries to benefit from global growth. Much as we credit the Bretton Woods institutions for providing the framework for sustained global economic growth since the Second World War, they are in dire need of major reforms. They must be more effective in promoting sustainable growth. Be that as it may, despite those limitations, Southeast Asia and in fact the entire East Asian region, have struggled to reap the fullest benefit of the system. Recently, however, pronouncements about political correctness, in place of tariff barriers, have emerged as a more sophisticated trade instrument to blunt the competitive edge of the East Asian economies. One cannot deny the fact that a lot of developing countries, including those in East Asia, require genuine political reform. But one must have the humility to appreciate the social, political and economic complexity of these societies. It is best to leave it to their wisdom to determine their own properties in implementing reform measures. The respect for the human person in all its dimensions, spiritual, moral, intellectual and artistic, is deeply rooted in the great Asian religious and cultural traditions. It is these moral precepts and values that must propel the imperative of reform, rather than the desire to placate external critics.
Japan has the enormous strength, and the experience during her own Meiji Era, to help forge this awareness among fellow Asians. She has the economic minght to be in the forefront against protectionism, and the historical experience to combat a rebirth of militarism. She can, and must, rise to the occasion. If and when she does so, she will render enormous service towards the Asian renaissance.