Can ASEAN and Japan buttress the international legal order?

Can ASEAN and Japan buttress the international legal order?
19 October 2023 -

Over the years, Japan has supported ASEAN’s development and integration through a range of initiatives including assistance during the Asian financial crisis, through disaster relief following the Indian Ocean tsunami and via the establishment of the Japan–ASEAN Integration Fund (JAIF). During the COVID-19 pandemic, Japan committed USD50 million to the development of the ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases (ACPHEED).

Japan has also doubled down on its engagement with ASEAN, being among the first to express support for the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP), which shares some principles with Japan’s own Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP). The ASEAN–Japan partnership will be upgraded to a ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership’ in December 2023.

Circumstances over the past 50 years created an environment conducive for Japan and ASEAN to pursue development and prosperity. A change in the status quo on the Taiwan Strait or any conflict over the South China Sea would threaten these joint goals. Middle powers like Japan and groupings like ASEAN are trapped in this geopolitical flux and cannot afford to stand idly by.

To protect against geopolitical shocks, ASEAN and Japan can buttress the rules-based order and strengthen the international rule of law. The inaugural meeting of ASEAN’s and Japan’s justice ministers followed by a meeting of ASEAN and G7 ministers were a start. Both meetings reaffirmed the importance of the rule of law and established a mechanism for communication between key ASEAN and G7 judicial officers.

Building more robust frameworks that reinforce the rule of international law in East Asia is a challenge for the future of ASEAN’s relationship with Japan.