ASEAN Inches Closer Towards Historic Charter

JAKARTA ~ Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said this week he was excited about Southeast Asian nations moving closer to approving an historic charter, and saw a free trade pact with the region as realistic.

Facing increased competition from China and India, and threats from insurgencies simmering across the region, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) plans to create a fully integrated economic zone by 2015.

Talks on the ASEAN charter have also focused on social justice and human rights.

“We have recently seen remarks mentioning sincere efforts to address fundamental values such as the strengthening of democratic values, ensuring good governance, upholding the rule of law and moreover, developing the promotion of human rights,” Abe said during a policy speech in Jakarta.

“It is difficult for me to put into words how greatly we, the citizens of Japan, are delighted and encouraged by such movement taking place within ASEAN,” he said.

Abe also said that Japan saw itself at the heart of the region’s historically sea-based commercial network.

“In recent years, it almost feels as if a remarkable precisely defined and multi-tiered division of labor within the manufacturing industry has even made the Japanese economy and ASEAN into a single integrated factory,” he said.

He said he felt a “quiet but certain excitement” at movement towards the charter.

Japan has also been negotiating with the 10-nation block on a free trade deal. Tokyo calls the deal an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPAs) and has already signed individual EPAs with six ASEAN members, including Indonesia on Monday.

“This type of EPA is, in my view, one that will raise the ASEAN economy one stage,” he said.

“Forging a comprehensive EPA with ASEAN as a whole … is also becoming an increasingly realistic goal,” he added.

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