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The Future of Asia 2021

Suga vows to lead 'free and open digital space' in Indo-Pacific

Japanese PM also promises to aid equitable vaccine access at Nikkei forum

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga concludes the first day of Nikkei's Future of Asia Conference on May 20. (Photo by Kai Fujii) 

TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Thursday that he wants to lead the formation of international standards for next-generation communications and build up Indo-Pacific digital infrastructure, trumpeting a broad and ambitious agenda for the post-COVID era.

In a speech at Nikkei's Future of Asia conference, held in Tokyo and online through Friday, Suga also reiterated hopes to expand the Trans-Pacific Partnership and vowed to step up efforts to provide fair access to vaccines.

"We will work on research and development for the 5G and 6G era, and take the lead in creating international rules for telecommunication standards," Suga said. "To further develop a free and open digital space in the Indo-Pacific, we have been working on the development of legal systems, infrastructure and human resources."

Suga pointed to projects such as an IT system for customs clearance operations in Vietnam, and a facility in Thailand that trains government agencies and important infrastructure companies in Southeast Asia.

The commitment to support Asia's digital shift comes amid growing awareness of China's digital rise, with the country outpacing Japan in rolling out 5G and making aggressive investments in cutting-edge technologies.

Regarding the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, also known as the TPP11, Suga said Japan "will lead discussions toward the steady implementation and expansion of the TPP11 not only in the area of market access, but also on rules."

Suga urged other countries to cooperate in establishing a free and open Indo-Pacific. "We strongly oppose any attempt to unilaterally change the status quo in the South China Sea," Suga said, noting that Japan's rule-of-law based approach is "widely supported by the international community."

When it comes to COVID-19 vaccines, Japan itself has lagged behind developed countries in getting shots in arms. But Suga said Japan "will continue to make efforts to ensure equitable access to safe and effective vaccines throughout the world, including developing countries."

These efforts will include co-hosting a summit next month, in which Suga said he will "call for strong commitments from each country" in expanding aid for free coronavirus vaccine supplies to countries in need.

Suga said Japan will support the development of cold chain logistics as well -- vital for vaccine delivery.

Suga also reiterated his commitment to hold the Olympics in Tokyo this summer, despite strong opposition from the public. The government has declared a state of emergency in the capital and elsewhere, placing restrictions on restaurants and other facilities to curb the spread of the virus.

At a climate summit last month, Suga laid out a 2030 target of cutting Japan's emissions by 46% from fiscal 2013 levels. The new goal, part of Suga's long-term target of net-zero emissions by 2050, is more ambitious than the country's original target of a 26% reduction.

"In order to achieve these goals, we will use the newly created 2 trillion yen fund, tax measures, regulatory reform, standardization, international cooperation and will mobilize every other possible measure," Suga pledged.

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