Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on Wednesday upgraded their relations to a "comprehensive strategic partnership" to further boost cooperation in maritime security and other areas amid China's increasing clout in the fast-growing region.
The elevation of ties, announced at the ASEAN-Japan summit in Jakarta, comes as Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida unveiled his country's human resources development plan for 5,000 people in domains such as maritime safety and digitalization over the next three years.
Japan and other major powers, including the United States, have been seeking to ramp up involvement with the 10-member regional bloc. For Japan's part, it unveiled the Japan-ASEAN comprehensive connectivity initiative to beef up support to ASEAN countries.
"Our nation will grow with ASEAN members by promoting technical cooperation with them," Kishida said in a speech at the ASEAN-Indo-Pacific Forum earlier in the day when announcing the new initiative.
In 2021, China upgraded relations with ASEAN to a comprehensive strategic partnership and the United States and India followed suit.
At the summit, Kishida also pledged to work together with his counterparts toward a special summit scheduled for December in Tokyo to commemorate the 50th year of their friendship, the Japanese government said.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of substantial cooperative ties between Japan and ASEAN, which began in 1973 with the establishment of a forum on synthetic rubber.
Kishida informed ASEAN leaders that Japan will provide financial aid to expedite the launch of the operation of the ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases.
Japan is also committed to helping each ASEAN member to digitalize infrastructure, enhance cybersecurity, strengthen supply chains for food and other products and promote decarbonization, he added.
Kishida also detailed Japan's release of treated radioactive water from the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean, emphasizing that the government considers the discharge to be safe.
His remarks came as tensions between Tokyo and Beijing have escalated in the wake of the treated water release, which began late last month despite opposition from neighboring countries, including China.
Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine and the situation in the East and South China seas, where tensions are running high over Beijing's military assertiveness, were also raised during the ASEAN-Japan summit, according to the officials.
Kishida is on a weeklong trip from Tuesday to Indonesia and India to attend ASEAN-related summits and a two-day gathering of leaders from the Group of 20 economies in New Delhi.
ASEAN consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
East Timor's Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmao, attended the meeting for the first time as his nation was granted observer status by the group. The bloc agreed in principle last year to admit East Timor as its 11th member.