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Home > Books & Journals > Book Review Last Updated: 14:22 03/09/2007
Book Review #57: December 24, 2003

Well timed on Japan-ASEAN

Reviewed by Tomohiko Taniguchi (Editor at Large, Nikkei Business Publications, Inc.)

Title: ASEAN-Japan Cooperation: A Foundation for East Asian Community
Author: Tadashi Yamamoto, Charles Morrison, et. al.
Publisher: Japan Center for International Exchange, Tokyo, Japan
Date/Time: October 2003
Pages: English text 236 pages (Softcover)
ISBN: 4-88907-071-0


This collection of essays is well timed. It appeared before the ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit that took place in Tokyo in mid December so that as Tadashi Yamamoto, the main editor notes, the book could contribute to the ASEAN-Japan leaders meeting.

It also succeeded in pulling together 17 of the leading, and conceivably the most informed, scholars and opinion makers from within and outside the region. Contributors' nationalities cover China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and USA. As such, this is currently one of the best sources of analysis in understanding the issues that surround ASEAN and Japan.

In the relationship between Japan and AEAN nations, there are three focal points. Firstly, though the dust has largely settled since the 1997-98 ASEAN financial crises, scarcely any one of the ASEAN nations has become shock-proof. Some have yet to recover fully. The region-wide financial architecture has to be made more solvent.

Secondly, China has grown, both economically and strategically, so fast that virtually no nation can remain indifferent. Emerging is a set of complex and fluid triangular relationships that sometimes involve Japan, Korea, and China, other times the US, ASEAN, and China, and so on. China is a giant neighbour, forcing both ASEAN and Japan to conduct prolonged mind-searching. One can read the book as part of the responses of that ongoing search.

Thirdly, post-911, the US is in the course of changing its defence posture in order to cope with asymmetrical warfare, while at the same time enhancing its military dominance over the East Asia-ASEAN region. Response to this varies from nation to nation.

A product of two sit-in workshops involving the chapter contributors, the book has succeeded in crystallising some of the urgent issues that ASEAN and Japan both face, a rarity for a book with as many as 17 authors. Starting with "Overviews", the book is divided into: ASEAN and Japan as regional units; economic relations; political-security relationships; cooperation in societal and cultural areas; and changing international environments and their implications.

Still, some of the key concepts with which one foresees the future ASEAN-Japan map need yet more thorough debate. One author depicted a key conception of the "East Asian Community" thus. "The ultimate logic is that an East Asian Community could function as a multilateral group that could stand up to the United States; in a case like the war against Iraq, it could pressure the United States to act prudently according to the principles of international cooperation. The purpose would be not to counterbalance the power of the Unites States, but to confront it in a constructive manner and to accommodate it when it leads with prudence." (p.53)

How in practice the Community could "pressure" or "confront in a constructive manner" the US whilst maintaining that to "counterbalance" is not what it intends remains murky at best. It is to be pointed out that very little is achievable simply by letting ideas skate around that way.

By comparison Takashi Kiuchi's chapter on "the future of ASEAN-Japan financial relations" stands out as one of the most succinct analyses on the crisis that hit the region and what has followed since. Unsurprisingly, one learns more from the analytical chapters than those that addressed future scenarios. Though this is not to deny the importance for us all to engage in scenario-writing efforts to better conceive what the future ASEAN-Japan relation may be like.

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