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ASEAN considering supporting Japan recovery with policy changes

Jakarta Post | Sunday 04/10/2011

ASEAN has offered Japan assistance in strategic policies to help the country recover from an earthquake and tsunami in March that killed thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands.

“We meet today [Saturday] to enhance cooperation and respond quickly at a time when one of us faces a grave disaster,” Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said at the Indonesia-initiated ASEAN-Japan meeting at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta on Saturday.

“Indonesia believes that a nation such as Japan, which has a strong work ethic, advanced science and technology and a good system in mitigating disasters, will be able to recover and rehabilitate itself quickly.”

He said Southeast Asia and Japan, which were prone to natural disasters, needed to cooperate with and strengthen solidarity with each other.

After the two-hour meeting, Indonesian foreign minister and current chair of ASEAN, Marty Natalegawa, said ASEAN foreign ministers and their representatives expressed their sympathy, solidarity and support to the government and people of Japan in their recovery and reconstruction efforts.

“I could see [Japanese Foreign Minister Takeaki] Matsumoto was deep in thought. When each speaker spoke, I saw him take a tissue to wipe his eyes,” Singaporean Ambasador-at-Large Chew Tai Soo said of the Japanese minister during the meeting.

“We can express our sympathy. But only the Japanese people can really feel the sadness.”

Philippine Foreign Minister Albert F. Del Rosario said he believed Japan “will emerge and ASEAN will be with Japan all the way”.

Marty said each ASEAN member state offered bilateral help to Japan to help it recover following the disaster through donations and evacuation teams.

“When we talk about aid, it doesn’t have to be money or [human] resources. It can also be in the form of policies given to Japan at a time of emergency such as now,” he said during a joint press conference following the meeting.

Marty said intended policies would be issued by technical ministries, and not only ASEAN foreign ministries.

ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said it was time for ASEAN countries to reciprocate what Japan had done in spurring development in the bloc and in the each country.

“What can we do? There are medium- and long-term [options] that will involve policies and strategies. We don’t know yet at this point,” he said.

He said Japanese industrial strategy may change, particularly in the automotive, consumer electronics and computing sectors because of the disaster.

“If there’s a new reorientation, what is ASEAN’s response?” Pitsuwan said, referring to changes that future policies may need to cater to. “We will have to explore this in the future.”

He said the ASEAN Secretariat General would assure Japanese could continue to trade in and travel to the region to help Japan “get back to its normal role in Southeast Asia”.

Pitsuwan said he would report on Japan’s recovery efforts and industry to ASEAN at the ASEAN Summits in May and October.

Matsumoto said he welcomed the joint effort made by ASEAN to assist Japan.

“We have received a variety of support. What I understand is that it’s not just words. What we need is close cooperation,” he said. “We would like to get more support for reconstruction.”

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