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ASEAN Summit Ends with Pledge for Free Trade Agreements, Aid - 2003-12-12

Japan and Southeast Asian countries have wrapped up a summit in Tokyo, pledging to create an East Asia economic community that includes free-trade agreements and aid. Japan also agreed to sign a non-aggression treaty with the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Japan and the 10-member ASEAN group unveiled ambitious plans for the creation of an East-Asian community.

In a joint declaration, signed after a two-day summit in Tokyo, the leaders of Japan and ASEAN promised to improve regional economic and security cooperation and to establish a free-trade zone within 10 years.

To that end, Japan announced Thursday it would start talks early next year with the Philippines, Malaysia, and Thailand on setting up bilateral free-trade agreements.

Japan is already Southeast Asia's second-largest trading partner-with trade last year totaling more than $120 billion.

President Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia - the current ASEAN chair - told reporters globalization creates both challenges and opportunities, which require greater regional unity in Asia.

"Although our relationship is in a good state, the dynamic global and regional and other environments require ASEAN and Japan to work together even more closely," she noted. "We note a desire to consolidate our cooperation in the political and security fields."

Tokyo showed its support of these goals by promising to sign ASEAN's non-aggression pact in which all of its members promise to respect each other's sovereignty and territorial integrity. China and India have also agreed to sign treaty.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi also pledged $3 billion in new aid to Southeast Asia. Half will go to develop the Mekong River region - which flows through Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Burma. The remainder will be divided between those countries and the other five ASEAN member-states: Brunei, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia.

Japan announced it would continue to earmark 30 percent of its vast foreign aid budget for ASEAN countries.

In their joint declaration, Japan and Southeast Asia also promised to work closely to fight terrorism, piracy, and human trafficking.