On US and Japan's Engagement with ASEAN and its Members

Notwithstanding their engagement with ASEAN through the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting (ADMM)-Plus, where both US and Japan are involved, with the US having co-chaired with Indonesia the working group on counter-terrorism in 2011-2014 and Japan now co-chairing with Laos the working group on HA/DR, the two regional powers are yet to engage ASEAN as allies. This was observed by the Assistant Secretary Raymund Quilop during the workshop held in Tokyo, Japan on 4-6 February 4-6 that was organized by the East-West Center based in Washington DC,USA and the Japan Institute International Affairs (JIAA).

Quilop further observed that cooperation with ASEAN by the US and Japan in spite of their having an alliance, with alliances being primarily established for defense against traditional threats, has primarily been to address non-traditional threats, perhaps indicative of their thrust to ensure that their alliance remains relevant to the current security environment where non-traditional issues preoccupy the attention of states. Interestingly, while Japan has initiated several multilateral platforms for engaging ASEAN to include the Japan-ASEAN vice-ministerial meeting and the Tokyo Defense Forum, the US keeps its engagements with individual members of ASEAN.

Acknowledged during the workshop are several modalities whereby the US and Japan engage ASEAN to include jointly as allies, individual unilateral efforts and through ASEAN-led mechanisms. It is hoped that the said workshop, the fourth in a series of related activities, would contribute in inducing US and Japanese leaders push for a joint US and Japan effort to engage ASEAN, something that has started to come about as manifested in the recent joint statements issued by the US President and Japanese Prime Minister.

With the recent conclusion of the PH-US Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and PH-Japan Memorandum on Defense Cooperation, the Philippines is presented with an opportunity to further deepen its relations with the two regional powers. The Philippines taking part in US-Japan bilateral activities and Japan participating in PH-US activities would be a good way forward, Quilop suggested.