Japan's prime minister hits the road Wednesday to pitch an idea to create stronger economic ties in Southeast Asia. Junichiro Koizumi will visit five-countries in the region.
Japanese news reports say Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will introduce his proposal for a regional economic alliance on a five-nation visit to Southeast Asia. The alliance would include Japan, the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. The proposal is expected to include free-trade agreements between Japan and the ASEAN nations.
Japanese media quote foreign ministry sources as saying he will unveil the idea for the forum during a keynote speech in Singapore.
But even before Mr. Koizumi leaves Japan, the idea is being greeted with some skepticism. Shigenori Okazaki, a political analyst at investment bank UBS Warburg in Tokyo, says Japan is in a weak position to try to accomplish Koizumi's goal. "Japan can talk about free trade and deeper economic relations, but actually Japan has cut back on the official development assistance to those [Southeast Asian] countries," he said. "Japan is under severe fiscal constraint and Mr. Koiuzumi has been cutting back on domestic spending, so obviously there is very little Japan can do at this stage."
There is also the question of where China would fit into this plan. The newcomer to the World Trade Organization and rising economic power recently had a dispute with Tokyo over Chinese agricultural exports to Japan.
Some analysts, such as Mr. Okazaki, say Mr. Koizumi's regional economic forum will die quickly unless he can get support from his Liberal Democratic Party and its powerful agricultural lobby. "If Japan is going to accept this free trade agreement, Japan will be asked to make concessions on agricultural trade, which will be very, very difficult for Mr. Koizumi's LDP," said Shigenori Okazaki.
Mr. Koizumi visits the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and Singapore on his seven-day trip.
In addition to stressing economic ties, he is expected to spend much of the trip shoring up regional political relationships. Several analysts have said Tokyo wants to stress that its close ties with the United States will not weaken its relationships with Japan's Asian neighbors.