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Koizumi Calls for Regional Cooperation - 2002-01-14

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi highlights a week-long trip to Southeast Asia with a speech outlining what advisors are calling a new Japanese policy toward the region. The prime minister calls for cooperation to restructure the region's economies and face new global challenges.

Prime Minister Koizumi Monday outlined his vision of broader cooperation among the nations of East Asia, not just in trade but in other areas, such as security. "I propose that Japan and ASEAN security cooperation, including transnational issues such as terrorism, be drastically intensified," says Mr. Koisumi. "Now, more than ever we realize that one's own security is at stake when a neighbor's wall is ablaze."

The members of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, began working on a regional security agreement after the September attacks in the United States. The Japanese leader suggested Asian countries join to combat sea piracy, which is on the rise in the region. He pledged to work for greater democracy in nations such as Burma and said Japan would work to reduce poverty and avert conflict in places such as the southern Philippines, the Indonesian province of Aceh and East Timor.

Prime Minister Koizumi also called for greater cooperation between Japan and ASEAN in a number of areas, including science and technology, education and tourism. And he called for a free trade area that would include all the major economies of East Asia. "An important challenge is changing economic partnerships in the region. The initiative for Japan-ASEAN comprehensive economic partnership will be an important platform for this purpose," he says. "I expect the ASEAN-China free trade area and moves toward the economic partnership between ASEAN, Australia and New Zealand will make similar contributions."

Mr. Koisumi visited five countries on his tour, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. All but Malaysia fully endorsed his free trade proposals. The trip, Mr. Koizumi's first to the region as prime minister, was aimed at revitalizing Japan's presence in the face of growing Chinese influence.

The Japanese leader Sunday signed a free trade agreement with Singapore. Japan's first bilateral free trade agreement removes tariffs on virtually all trade between the two countries. Mr. Koizumi says he hopes it will serve as a model for similar agreements with other countries.

Analysts note the agreement with Singapore was relatively easy to achieve. Singapore does not export farm products, so the accord does not threaten Japan's politically sensitive agricultural sector.

Mr. Koizumi says he would like the 10 nations of ASEAN to create a free trade area with Japan similar to one announced with China last November. However, he has not announced a target date for such an accord