Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Thursday pledged to support the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in addressing the coronavirus pandemic and enhancing security amid China’s growing influence in the region.
At the beginning of an online summit with counterparts from the 10 Southeast Asian nations open to the media, Suga promised Tokyo’s continuous assistance for an ASEAN center for infectious diseases, which will be established following a proposal in April by his predecessor Shinzo Abe.
“We will not hesitate to keep supporting (the center) so that it will serve a vital role in protecting people in the region from the threat of infectious diseases,” Suga said, noting the importance of concerted measures in combating the pandemic.
Suga and ASEAN leaders also affirmed cooperation in realizing an initiative adopted by the Southeast Asian countries last year to promote engagement and cooperation in the wider Indo-Pacific region.
China has conflicting territorial claims with four ASEAN members — Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam — as well as Taiwan in the South China Sea, a key waterway through which more than a third of global trade passes.
Japan sees cooperation with ASEAN countries as necessary to achieve a free and open Indo-Pacific based on international law.
ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.