Japan agreed on Thursday to start free trade talks with Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines in an attempt to counteract China’s growing influence in Asia.
Japanese worries about the economic threat from China have grown since 2002, when Beijing signed a pact setting a framework for talks on free trade agreements (FTAs) with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a deal Japan scurried to imitate this October.
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi met the leaders of the three countries separately for talks on a range of bilateral issues on the sidelines of an ASEAN summit — the first time a non-member has hosted such a meeting.
Despite its decade-long economic woes, Japan remains an economic powerhouse second only to the United States. Japan is still a leader in some heavy industries, consumer electronics, and in early adoption of new technologies. East Asia would rightly shudder at the thought of Japanese troops marching about — this, however, is different.
Japan is using her economic muscle to foster free trade in a region known for its protectionism, in order to thwart the growing influence of authoritarian China. If only Berlin’s current leadership were so wise.
Or Washington’s, for that matter.