In his 2006 New Year message, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi pledged to improve relations with neighbouring countries. Underlying this message is perhaps the understanding that its relations with its neighbours, particularly its near neighbours — China and Korea — have been less than ideal. However, Prime Minister Koizumi also made it clear that Japan's foreign relations would remain based on the Japan-US alliance. This perhaps reiterated what his Foreign Minister Mr Taro Azo said not long after he was appointed foreign minister that in Japan's foreign relations, it is "US first, Asia second". No one doubts the importance of the Japan-US relationship, just as no one would underestimate the importance of getting Sino-US relations right if the stability of the region is to be assured. However, while China has been working hard to maintain a proactive and responsible regional policy in Asia, Japanese policy towards Asia has at best been unclear and uncertain, and at worst raised serious questions about Japan's perception of itself and its relations with the rest of Asia. One wonders if Japan, though geographically located in East Asia, considers itself politically and psychologically East Asian. This article focuses on Japan's relations with Southeast Asia and ASEAN, and examines how Japan's ambivalent attitude towards the East Asian region may impact the construction of an East Asian Community which ASEAN purports to be in the driving seat.


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pp. 259-275
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