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Japan urges Asean to boost connectivity

Feb 28. 2015
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By Suchat Sritama
The Nation

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Japan has urged Asean nations to develop their connectivity, especially cross-border transportation and logistics services, to strengthen regional competitiveness and pave the way for further Japanese investment.

Japanese economists and academics yesterday discussed the future development of Asean countries at an international symposium, “Opportunities in a New Era of Enhanced Asean/Japan Partnership”.

Experts said countries in Southeast Asia needed to improve their connectivity, especially overland and across borders, and that the region should enhance logistics services to cope with more investment from Japan in the long-term.

“Japan has been investing in Asean for more than 40 years, and Asean is its largest production base. Therefore, we are now talking about how to support Asean [countries] to build their connectivity to cope with further investment from Japan,” said Masahiro Kawai, project professor at the University of Tokyo.

The Toshiba International Foundation, the Federation of Thai Industries, and the Thai Chamber of Commerce jointly organised the event, which was supported by Chulalongkorn University’s Chula Global Network, the Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Tokyo, Nation Multimedia Group and Asia News Network.

Economists and other experts offered views for countries on how they should identify and create a new paradigm for advanced development in Asean, as the region approaches full implementation of the Asean Economic Community at the end of the year.

Akihiko Uchikawa, minister at the Embassy of Japan in Thailand, said if the Kingdom creates better links it could increasingly serve as a production base and supply chain for Japanese companies in the region, and therefore generate more business from Japan.

Japan stands ready to support Thailand in building quality infrastructure as well as technology transfer, he said.

“Asean economies can be developed from the existing land [transportation] system, such as a corridor linking Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam,” he added.

Fukunari Kimura, chief economist at the Economic Research Institute for Asean and East Asia, told the symposium that Japan did not really need high-speed connectivity between Thai cities or within the region at the moment, but required efficient and quality logistics services, which would significantly reduce time-costs and strengthen the production system. “As many Japanese firms have a production base in the region, they need advanced logistics management. If Asean can meet that need, it should help strengthen both Japan and Asean,” he explained.

Hiroshi Watanabe, governor and chief executive officer of the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, said Asean and Japan needed to decide on a number of key issues regarding future cooperation.

The first thing to consider is whether they should work together on a bilateral agreement basis – Asean-Japan – or under a multi-party agreement. For the latter, he cited a possible Asean-Japan-China model, as Tokyo already works successfully with Beijing in similar development-cooperation areas.

Whichever route is taken, Japan needs to have good connectivity with Asean, especially in regard to overland transportation, he stressed.

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