Japan, ASEAN strengthen Indo-Pacific security

Japan, ASEAN strengthen Indo-Pacific security

Felix Kim

The government of Japan continues to work closely with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to bolster security across the Indo-Pacific in the areas of public health, disaster management and cybersecurity.

Tokyo has demonstrated high levels of participation and financial support with its involvement in new and ongoing initiatives, which were discussed at the 15th meeting of the ASEAN-Japan Joint Cooperation Committee, held virtually March 23, 2021, and co-chaired by the ambassadors to ASEAN from Japan and Vietnam.

Despite the pandemic, the ASEAN-Japan cooperation program implemented or adopted 57 projects that received about U.S. $40 million in support from Japan through its Japan-ASEAN Integration Fund (JAIF), ASEAN delegates said.

Japan’s interest in fortifying the region’s preparedness and capacity to respond to health crises such as future pandemics is coming to fruition through its investment in the ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases (ACPHEED), which was a central topic at the meeting, the Vietnam News Agency (VNA) reported. Experts from Japan are expected to help ASEAN design the ACPHEED center and train its personnel.

“Japan shares the same geographical vulnerabilities besetting the region,” a JAIF statement said. “Cognizant of these, Japan and ASEAN continue to cooperate in facing such common challenges.”

ASEAN delegates expressed appreciation of JAIF’s support for ACPHEED and for disaster management and cybersecurity programs, VNA reported.

Southeast Asia was hit by 520 natural disasters in 2020, according to JAIF, including storms, floods, fires, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Japan channels its support for ASEAN disaster management through the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance. In late February 2021, the center mobilized relief supplies, pictured, to thousands of quarantined fishermen in Samut Sakhon province, Thailand.

JAIF also funds stockpiles of relief items at the United Nations Humanitarian Response Depot in Subang, Malaysia.

JAIF supports disaster education in ASEAN member states by supplying schools with teaching materials and teacher training. JAIF also funds enhancements to information and communication technology infrastructure and systems throughout ASEAN states. About 1,300 ASEAN local government officials were trained in disaster management between 2016 and 2020 in JAIF-supported programs, according to the JAIF secretariat.

Japan is also supporting ASEAN cybersecurity initiatives. Two four-day training sessions for cybersecurity specialists from ASEAN member states on the topics of malware analysis and digital forensics were held in January and February 2021 at the JAIF-funded ASEAN-Japan Cybersecurity Capacity Building Centre in Bangkok, Thailand, the JAIF secretariat said. A three-day course on cybercrime incident response was held there in March 2021.

The center regularly administers the Cyber SEA Game, a competition challenging students and young engineers to solve computer security problems.

The center, founded in 2018, recognizes a “shortage of competent cybersecurity experts in the public and critical information infrastructure” in ASEAN countries and aims to educate a high-level workforce of over 700 cybersecurity experts by 2022.

Felix Kim is a FORUM contributor reporting from Seoul, South Korea.