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  • Q & A with Najmina Latif: Japan's Peacebuilding Assistance to the ASEAN Countries

Q & A with Najmina Latif: Japan's Peacebuilding Assistance to the ASEAN Countries

By Najmina Latif
Senior Manager, Brunei Darussalam Central Bank
May 10, 2024
How would you evaluate the Commemorative Summit for the 50th Year of ASEAN-Japan Friendship and Cooperation? Especially, what are your thoughts from the perspective of peacebuilding?
I understand this summit was held in December 2023. I was very pleased to see the gathering of ASEAN and Japan leaders during the summit, having bilateral discussions and sharing a meal together. For Brunei Darussalam especially, our King is much beloved and therefore it was heartwarming to see the media depictions of the summit as it progressed.

Contemporary global issues in this post-COVID-19 era make the ongoing peacebuilding initiatives especially necessary to maintain stability as geopolitical tensions rise, as well as to ensure trade openness in the region in the face of growing protectionism. A commemorative event such as this summit serves as positive reinforcement towards this peacebuilding.

Personally, as a member of the Brunei Association of Japan Alumni and the Board of Directors for the Asia-Japan Alumni International association, I was very proud to have former MEXT officials and Japanese government scholars from ASEAN countries also represented in the summit proceedings.

A map with ASEAN countries

How important are gender considerations in peacebuilding in your view?
Equitable representation certainly should be at the forefront of any peacebuilding plans, in any region in the world, given the disparity that can be seen through the Global Gender Gap Index. However, in my personal view, more importantly, focus should also be made on supporting children who are usually the most affected in conflict-stricken areas. Children regardless of gender should be part of any considerations when planning and implementing any peacebuilding activities.

For example, the Philippines rank relatively high in the Global Gender Gap Index among Asian countries. What are the reasons for this? Also, what is necessary to improve women's rights in Asia? *The Philippines ranks 19th in the Global Gender Gap Index 2022 (P10).
I am quite pleased to see the Philippines ranking so high globally, in the 19th place, and the highest among ASEAN countries in terms of the Gender Gap Ranking. In the report shared, I note that only four countries in East Asia and Pacific are on the global Top 50 countries that rank well in closing their gender gaps. It shows that there is still much to be accomplished in improving gender parity in our society.

I wonder if it is a sign of the changing times that there is no longer this cultural belief that women should stay at home and take care of the children while men go out to work. Perhaps it also is a reflection of the current state of the global economy, which is forcing more women to participate in the areas of education, politics and businesses, in order to keep up with growing household expenses and sustaining a good lifestyle.

If we are to aim for continuous improvement, I believe we need more exposure to this issue, or in other words, more dialogue to create awareness. Dialogue itself may not result in concrete outcomes, but the possibility of inspiring action from sharing that knowledge and awareness is an incredible opportunity that should not be missed.

Japan has continuously supported peacebuilding throughout Asia. Can you give us a good example of an initiative that Japan has supported in your country, Brunei?
I understand that peacebuilding is one of the current major diplomatic priorities for Japan, and one of the priority issues of its Official Development Assistance (ODA). As we are a relatively peaceful country, I believe Brunei has not received support in the same way or scale of our neighboring countries. However, much could be said about the support received in the area of education.

The Government of Japan has graciously funded scholarships for Bruneians to pursue their studies in Japan for many decades, as well as provided support by posting Japanese-language teachers to our local education institutions and conducting cultural exchange events. Building on this relationship, our local higher education institutions have started building closer relationships with their Japan counterparts, particularly in the area of healthcare and scientific research.

Please tell us about the characteristics of Japan's peacebuilding assistance. Can you tell us specifically how Japan has contributed to Southeast Asian countries in this regard?
From my own interactions while in my country, I know that we frequently receive visitors from the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) in which their training ships would come by and both our countries’ naval officers would have friendly exchanges throughout the brief stay. This type of maritime diplomacy is useful in building and maintaining friendly relations.

One story I recall hearing is about how the JMSDF were sent to Aceh, Indonesia around 2013 after it was hit by a powerful earthquake, to deliver and help build instant housing for those who had lost their homes.

What should Japan do in the future to secure peace throughout Southeast Asian?
Japan’s relationship with Southeast Asia has always been special, particularly since the founding of the 1977 Fukuda doctrine of “heart to heart” diplomacy. It is worth revisiting this sentiment regularly to teach the younger generations of its history and value to the region.

In addition, attention could be given to areas where political tensions still erupt, such as in Myanmar, the dispute over the Spratly Islands, and the notion of the Nine-dash line. The geographical position of Japan could possibly serve as an advantage to ASEAN, or for any conflict-ridden territory in the region, which could leverage Japan’s advanced security forces for stability and to establish neutral territory for any sensitive diplomatic negotiations.

Lastly, perhaps there will be new opportunities in the future with ASEAN’s most recent member, Timor-Leste, now on board. ASEAN and Japan should continue to build their relationship by ensuring Timor-Leste equally benefits from such relations, particularly in the area of transnational organized crime.

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