I wish to extend my heartfelt congratulations to ASEAN on the 50th anniversary of its founding.
Over the past 50 years, ASEAN has been resolute in pursuing integration in the areas of politics, security, the economy, society and culture. Thus, the ASEAN Community was founded at the end of 2015. During these five decades, ASEAN has played a major role in ensuring the stability and prosperity not only in its own region, but also in the whole of Asia.
At the time of its founding, ASEAN was still suffering from underdevelopment. Despite this, ASEAN member states overcame their differences in terms of country size, political regimes, and sociocultural character and achieved their current international positions. From the perspective of world history, this is a remarkable accomplishment. Historically, regions that were surrounded by great powers often suffered from conflicts and divisions, and were thus forced to endure tragic circumstances. Southeast Asia was no exception. With their strong and wise leadership, however, ASEAN leaders have overcome various difficulties and obstacles to move steadily toward regional integration.
"The ASEAN Way" respects the sovereignty of each country, understands diversity and takes sufficient time to form a consensus when necessary. The ASEAN Way represents the local wisdom of the region and serves as a potential model for resolving many of the issues that plague the world. Currently, leaders and foreign ministers of neighboring countries meet annually through forums led by ASEAN, such as the East Asia Summit, ASEAN Regional Forum and ASEAN+3, to discuss important regional issues. These forums would not exist without ASEAN. In other words, these forums are made possible because countries such as Japan, China, South Korea, Russia and the U.S. trust ASEAN. The association's "convening power" should be highly valued.
ASEAN's success is not limited to politics. Currently, the total gross domestic product of the 10 ASEAN member states in 2015 amounts to $2.4 trillion, or 3.3 percent of the global GDP, and its trade volume stands at $2.2 trillion, or 7.1 percent of world trade volume in 2016. In addition, Japan and others from across the world are investing heavily in ASEAN. This is a result of ASEAN's commitment to promote steady progress toward an open and liberal economic system since it agreed to the creation of the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) in 1992. In addition to its policy efforts, ASEAN's abundance of labor and rich natural resources have now earned ASEAN a reputation as a global economic powerhouse.
Japan is contributing greatly to ASEAN's development. The country has been engaged in economic cooperation with Southeast Asia since the 1950s, even before ASEAN was founded, through its official development assistance (ODA) and other financial assistance programs. Japan has cooperated with ASEAN member states in nation-building and human resource development efforts. For example, the amount of ODA that Japan has extended to ASEAN over the past 50 years is valued in excess of $110 billion. As the ASEAN economy developed, ASEAN has also come to support Japan's economy. Indeed, ASEAN is Japan's second-largest trading partner and top investment destination in the world. There are about 10,000 Japanese-affiliated companies in the ASEAN region. Currently, ASEAN represents the key to Japan's growth strategy. Over the past 50 years, Japan and ASEAN have become essential economic partners.
In tandem with this, cultural and people-to-people exchanges have also grown over the years. The number of people visiting Japan from ASEAN member states increased five-fold from 500,000 in 2006 to 2.5 million in 2016. The number of ASEAN students studying in Japan has also seen a six-fold increase during the same period. Fostering people-to-people exchanges and promoting mutual understanding, especially among the younger generation, are essential for maintaining and building stronger Japan-ASEAN relations.
At present, causes for instability such as the South China Sea issue remain and threats of terrorism and violent extremism seem to be on the rise. On the economic front, there are some trends in the world that are working against economic integration. Given the current climate, ASEAN will likely have to navigate difficult situations as it has in the past. I am confident, however, that ASEAN will overcome these challenges to continue to integrate and develop.
Japan is committed to continue cooperating with ASEAN to further promote regional stability and prosperity. In order to realize this, it is important that we share universal values such as freedom, democracy, rule-of-law and a commitment to a free and open economic system. They are embodied in the Five Principles of Japan's ASEAN Diplomacy that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced in January 2013. These are the values that Japan has unwaveringly adhered to in the post-war era and those that ASEAN has nurtured while respecting the diversity of its member states. For as long as Japan and ASEAN uphold these values, we will both stand to witness a bright future over the coming 50 years.