My name is Suga Yoshihide.
I like Vietnam.
I like ASEAN.
(Steady and continuous efforts that lead to the path of growth)
I am truly delighted to meet you all, students of the Vietnam-Japan University (VJU), which is a symbol of human resource development projects between Japan and ASEAN.
VJU was established based on an agreement between the leaders of Japan and Vietnam. It is a symbol of Japan-ASEAN cooperation, especially the training and education of the next generation of global talents. I am greatly honored to deliver a speech on my first overseas visit after taking office as Prime Minister, in front of you who are studying here to go on to eventually forge the future of Vietnam, ASEAN and the world.
A month ago, I took office as Prime Minister taking over the position of former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, who resigned due to his health issues. Former Prime Minister Abe devoted himself to advancing Japan-ASEAN relations including by establishing the VJU. I too would like to continue deepening the friendship and cooperation with the people of ASEAN.
Please allow me to introduce myself a little bit, in the hope that you may find something congenial in me in the same way I feel a strong affinity with your country and ASEAN.
I hear that it snows in the northern part of Vietnam, but you would be surely surprised to see snowfall in my hometown. That is Akita Prefecture, located in the northern part of Japan. It is an area where it snows so heavily that snow can pile up even higher than the first story of a house. I was born and brought up as a son of a farmer in the deep snows of Akita.
After graduating from high school, I moved to Tokyo to challenge myself, and began working at a small factory. However, I was soon faced with the harsh reality. Figuring that I could not change my life without university education, I entered a university two years later than my peers. Perhaps my feelings at that time were similar to yours, as you study and prepare for bounds and leaps in your future.
I worked part-time to earn my living and academic fees. Upon graduating from university, I worked in the private sector. However, realizing that it might be politics that is steering this country, I entered the world of politics at the age of 26, which was 45 years ago.
After serving as secretary for a member of the Diet for eleven years, I became a member of a local assembly at the age of 38. Confronted with the need to change national politics to develop rural areas, I aspired to enter national politics, and became a member of the Diet when I was 47.
Subsequently, I became a cabinet minister and served as Chief Cabinet Secretary under former Prime Minister Abe, and assumed the office of Prime Minister last month.
Ever since entering politics, I have always thought about how best to improve people's lives, in any way I can, and have worked hard at it with the support of many people. As a result, I have come thus far to shoulder the formidable responsibilities as the Prime Minister of Japan, leading the "Cabinet working for the people".
Come to think of it, the path I have carved out as a politician, may be akin to the one Japan has taken in the postwar period, starting from zero and achieving growth through diligent efforts. At the same time, the path may be somewhat likened to the trajectory of ASEAN. ASEAN has achieved remarkable growth and become the center of global growth. This explains why I feel a sense of affinity with your country and ASEAN.
(Japan and ASEAN helping each other as friends in Asia)
ASEAN and Japan are equal partners and friends. We support each other by working side by side, learning from one another and working together in pursuit of growth. Our relationship remains exactly a "heart-to-heart" relationship.
This is amply illustrated by the recent response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the outbreak of COVID-19, supply chains were cut short around the world, leaving many countries suffering from shortages of medical supplies. Japan also ran short of medical supplies, and as Chief Cabinet Secretary I exerted myself to secure supplies and distribute them on site.
I was deeply moved when Vietnam sent 1.2 million face masks to Japan under such circumstances. This cooperation symbolizes the strategic partnership between our countries.
Furthermore, Indonesia, which is my next destination on this tour, resumed exporting medical surgical clothing by exempting it from the application of an export ban despite being in a difficult situation amid the fight against COVID-19. This is, to my mind, more proof of the resilience of the strategic partnership in which countries help each other in need.
Japan has been providing medical supplies and equipment in the form of grant aid, and assisting human resource development with a view to contributing to strengthening health and medical care systems and improving public health in ASEAN. In addition, at an unprecedented speed, Japan is implementing the COVID-19 Crisis Response Emergency Support yen Loans worth up to 500 billion yen over the next two years to support economic activities of countries with a focus on the Indo-Pacific region including ASEAN. These instances of cooperation also serve universal health coverage (UHC), a goal that Japan has been striving for together with ASEAN.
Moreover, Japan and ASEAN are currently working together towards the establishment of the ASEAN Centre for public health emergencies and emerging diseases with the aim to strengthen ASEAN's response capacity to infectious diseases.
We have never forgotten how ASEAN countries helped us as friends nine and a half years ago when the Great East Japan Earthquake struck Japan. I believe that the ability to help each other in crises and respond swiftly to emerging challenges is another trait of the cooperation between Japan and ASEAN as equal partners.
(Improving connectivity: hard and soft infrastructure, and towards digital technology, and the resilience of supply chains)
ASEAN embraces diversity, respects one another and emphasizes consensus. Japan believes that fully supporting ASEAN which has moved forward with regional integration and developed in such spirit, will lead to peace, stability and prosperity in the region including Japan. Based on this belief, for the last several decades, Japan has been supporting ASEAN's centrality and unity through a whole range of cooperation.
The supply chain is an essential and integral element of modern day international business. This trend was ushered in by the investment of Japanese companies in ASEAN. Japanese automobile manufacturers establishing factories in Thailand in the 1960s became the first of many investments made by a diverse range of Japanese enterprises in ASEAN.
In this process, Japanese companies enhanced the expertise of their local employees in host countries through training and contributed to nurturing local businesses.
As I see it, the official development assistance (ODA) in combination with investment from Japanese companies have been instrumental in ASEAN's sustainable development, as if they were the two wheels of a cart.
A typical example of ODA cooperation is infrastructure development, which enhances the connectivity of the region. This means building social infrastructure conducive to economic growth such as ports, roads, railways, airports and industrial compounds in an open manner and connecting them across national borders to form economic corridors. Examples of this cooperation include the East-West Economic Corridor and the Southern Economic Corridor running through Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar. Japan will continue to support ASEAN countries' endeavors to strengthen mutual connectivity within the region and develop together as the entire region. I am delighted that collaboration between Japan and ASEAN is still continuing in laying foundations for the ASEAN economy which is vital to Japanese companies as well.
On the basis of such physical connectivity, Japan and ASEAN are also jointly engaging in rule-making towards strengthening of the international economic system, taking on the challenge to improve connectivity of soft infrastructure.
After the turn of the 21st century, during rapid globalization, rule-making on trade and investment had made little headway due to stalled WTO round negotiations.
This prompted Japan and ASEAN to reduce trade barriers by concluding bilateral economic partnership agreements, starting with the Japan-Singapore Economic Partnership Agreement, and the ASEAN-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership (AJCEP), and also to pursue rule-making on regional economic activities.
Looking forward, the key word for further improving connectivity is digital technology and the resilience of supply chains.
First, digital technology. Today, digital technology and data transcend national borders, connect economies and influence all kinds of social activities. We will facilitate rule-making based on data free flow with trust, or DFFT, while promoting jointly with ASEAN countries the digitalization of our economies and societies and the enhancement of digital connectivity, all of which have grown in significance through responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ASEAN-Japan Cybersecurity Capacity Building Centre established in Bangkok two years ago by Japan's cooperation contributes to safeguarding regional cyberspace together, and to creating economies that enable companies to do business safely.
Next, the resilience of supply chains. The COVID-19 pandemic once again shed light on the necessity to lower risks of cutoffs, build a sustainable supply system and enhance its resilience in order to maintain international supply chains. This is the reason why many Japanese companies are striving to diversify supply chains by extending them to ASEAN. Japan will further strengthen cooperation with ASEAN to increase the resilience of supply chains and build economies in Asia that are resilient to crises.
(Human resource development through personal interaction that further solidifies partnerships)
Connectivity to be created by ASEAN and Japan is underpinned by the human resources of ASEAN. Infrastructure and systems only work with the people who operate them.
Because ASEAN has been nurtured in an environment rich in diversity and internationality, it is abundant with human resources envied by the world. To contribute to the development of human resources, Japan has been working in tandem with ASEAN to assist capacity building through the exchange of people including JICA experts, Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV), training in Japan and Japanese Government Scholarship Students. An excellent example of such human resource development is this VJU which set up undergraduate courses starting this year in addition to the existing graduate courses. At the same time, human resources full of youth and vitality such as technical intern trainees coming from ASEAN countries to Japan have become crucial to the lives and the economy of Japanese people.
Based on this situation, two years ago, as the Chief Cabinet Secretary I spearheaded domestic regulation reform and made it possible for skilled personnel in 14 fields to work in Japan. This "Specified Skilled Worker" scheme has been implemented since April 2019. We are undertaking comprehensive measures at the workplace, municipalities and in education so that Japan will be chosen by foreign workers, and creating an accepting environment which will invite you to conclude that you want to work in Japan.
I am convinced that this kind of relationship I just mentioned has been instrumental in reinforcing the partnership between ASEAN and Japan. Thanks to human interaction through the cultivation of human resources, numerous Japanese people became fond of ASEAN. I really hope that in the same way many people in ASEAN have come to love Japan.
Nobody understands better than me the importance of people-to-people exchanges. In my capacity as Chief Cabinet Secretary, I focused on an inbound tourism initiative as a pillar of the Government's growth strategy, and advocated for easing requirements for foreign visitors to obtain visas, a reform that had been stalled due to red tape. As a result of this reform, the number of visitors to Japan last year reached approximately 32 million, growing nearly fourfold from 8.36 million in 2012.
Furthermore, my country has been carrying out the "WA Project" to foster cultural exchange between Japan and ASEAN through fine arts and the Japanese language. I believe the project has created many fans of Japan and motivated many to visit Japan. I am hoping to announce attractive cultural exchange projects to succeed the "WA Project" on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Japan-ASEAN friendship and cooperation in 2023.
Although visiting for tourism is difficult at present, when the COVID-19 pandemic is brought under control, I sincerely hope that many people will be visiting both Japan and ASEAN to experience the diverse culture and the rich nature in each country and savor the delicious local cuisines.
If the opportunity arises, please also venture to the rural areas in Japan. I am sure you will find something new to enjoy.
We still cannot be optimistic about the impacts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, for the sake of the global economy, we must not halt cross-border travel while preventing the spread of infection. Starting October 1st, Japan recommenced accepting business persons for short business trips, and international students and company employees for medium to long term stays from countries around the world including Vietnam under certain conditions. We will continue to create a system so that more and more people from countries successfully controlling infectious diseases including Vietnam will be able to visit Japan safely through simplified procedures.
Students of VJU, please come and visit Japan for employment, research, business trips and other purposes.
(ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific and Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific which share fundamental principles)
What brought about the wide range of cooperation between ASEAN and Japan I have outlined so far?
I believe the key is that ASEAN and Japan fully share fundamental principles such as the rule of law, openness, freedom, transparency and inclusiveness. Because these are deeply rooted in our societies, ASEAN and Japan have been able to overcome obstacles and collaborate with each other.
ASEAN, situated at the hub of the vast Indian and Pacific Oceans, released the "ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific" as a guide for its future path in 2019. The ASEAN Outlook powerfully sets forth the rule of law, openness, freedom, transparency and inclusiveness as the ASEAN's principles for behavior. The fact that it shares many fundamental commonalities with the "Free and Open Indo-Pacific" Japan is advocating for is tremendously encouraging for me. I strongly support the AOIP. I firmly believe that we can create a peaceful and prosperous future along with ASEAN with these fundamental values in common.
Unfortunately, in this region, developments contrary to the rule of law and openness upheld by the ASEAN Outlook have been unfolding in the South China Sea. Japan is strongly opposed to any actions that escalate tensions in the South China Sea. Japan has been consistently supporting the preservation of the rule of law in seas. I would like to reemphasize the importance for all parties concerning the South China Sea issues to work towards the peaceful resolution of disputes based on international law instead of resorting to force or coercion.
Japan will work hand in hand with ASEAN to establish the rule of law in seas and oceans. For instance, Japan has provided patrol vessels and equipment for maritime safety to Vietnam, the Philippines and other countries. Japan has also been advancing human resource development through training in, and dispatch of experts to coastal nations along sea lanes including Indonesia and Malaysia. Japan will spare no effort to offer cooperation for this purpose.
I would like to conclude by reiterating my message today to all students present here. My message is that if you work diligently with strong determination and are blessed with friends from whom you can learn, similar to how Japan and ASEAN have each other, you can grow side by side, carve out your own path and follow that path towards achieving your respective goals. I myself will exert every effort and treasure the invaluable friendship with ASEAN. As good friends, let us put in the effort, working hand in hand, to move forward to accomplish a free, open and more prosperous Indo-Pacific.
Thank you all for your kind attention.