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Japan Aid a Balance in Southeast Asia: Analysts

Japan's Ambassador to Burma Takashi Saito, seated left, and Burma's Ambassador to Japan Khin Maung Ting sign documents on their accord on the sidelines of the Mekong-Japan Summit at the State Guest House in Tokyo, April 21, 2012.

Japan recently announced a pledge of $7.4 billion for the lower Mekong countries, including Cambodia.

Analysts say this could be a bid to balance the growing power of China in a region that has become more important to US foreign policy.

“Frankly speaking, Japan’s policy is one of economics,” said Chheang Vannarith, executive director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace. “Japan sets economics as a priority, and the five Mekong countries will be a production network and production base.”

The lower Mekong countries are a target market for vehicles, machinery and other goods produced in Japan, so a developed region with developed incomes is a benefit, he said.

Richard Cronin, head of the Southeast Asia section at the Stimson Center, a think tank, said Japan is eying China’s growing prominence in Asia and is trying to expand both its economic and political influence.

“In general, I believe that Japan’s involvement in providing aid to the region is positive and generally supports regional peace and stability,” he said.

Japan announced the aid commitment at a Mekong summit in Tokyo on Saturday and said the money would go to infrastructure and transportation, which would help stabilize the region.

Chheang Vannarith said that regional considerations, even with nation-centric motives, mean a more peaceful Asia Pacific.

“If there is a culture to think about foreign policy like this, then conflict in the region will be very much reduced,” he said.