September 21, 2022
SIEM REAP — Japan and the United States are trying to speed up economic cooperation with Southeast Asian countries. Southeast Asia, home to many manufacturing bases, is central to the global supply chain and an important region in terms of economic security.
The two nations want to confront China, which has increased its economic clout by building infrastructure in the region.
More cooperative bonds
A meeting of business ministers and others from Japan, the United States, China, Russia and member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations was held in Siem Reap, northwest Cambodia, on Saturday.
Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, representing Japan, told reporters, “Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of Japan-ASEAN friendship and cooperation. Japan will seize this opportunity to further expand and strengthen our cooperative ties.”
At the meeting, Nishimura said Japan will accelerate its digital transformation efforts, which will use digital technology to solve social problems. He said Japanese companies will work with local firms to improve the level of medical care through the use of digital technology and agricultural efficiency through the use of artificial intelligence.
The United States is also increasing its engagement in Southeast Asia.
On Sept. 9, ministers from 14 countries agreed to begin formal negotiations on the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, a new US-led economic zones initiative. Of the 14, seven are ASEAN member countries.
The United States has also announced a policy of working with Google LLC, Apple Inc. and others to provide education and IT-related training to women in emerging Indo-Pacific countries, including Southeast Asian countries.
Beijing sets standards
China’s influence is growing rapidly in Southeast Asia.
In Cambodia, which is said to be friendly to Beijing, roads are being built quickly with Chinese support. A high-speed railway linking Vientiane with Kunming in China’s Yunnan Province opened in Laos in December last year.
In countries like Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, household appliances and mobile phones made by Chinese companies are very popular. China is also trying to expand sales of electric vehicles in such countries, and a representative from a Japanese company said Japan could eventually lose market share in such countries, even in cars where it is considered a leader.
Russia has close ties with Southeast Asian countries in tourism, a major industry in the region. Thailand, known for its tourism industry, had about 1.48 million visitors from Russia in 2019 before the coronavirus pandemic, more than from the United States or Britain.
tug of war
Southeast Asia is home to many factories of multinational companies, including automobile and semiconductor manufacturers. Businesses must take action to keep supply chains running while responding to the need to strengthen collaboration for economic security.
US Trade Representative Katherine Tai, who also attended the meeting in Siem Reap, was due to visit Indonesia.
The USTR said Tai will discuss how the United States can support and encourage investment in the region.
Japan and the United States each held meetings with ASEAN countries on Sunday to advance their discussions.
China and Russia also held meetings with ASEAN members, respectively, and agreed to further promote their economic cooperation.
The tug-of-war between the two sides over Southeast Asia is likely to intensify.