JAKARTA – Japan will continue to support the community building of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made the remarks on the 40th Year of ASEAN-Japan Friendship and Cooperation Kick-off Reception as conveyed by Japan Ambassador Kimihiro Ishikane to ASEAN Friday.

Premier Abe went back to Japan prior to the reception to handle the hostage crisis involving Japanese citizens in Algeria, according to Ambassador Ishikane.

“ASEAN community is extremely important for peace and prosperity in Asia Pacific, and Japan is committed to assisting you in any aspects of your community building efforts,” Abe said to 500 ASEAN guests at the reception which was held here Friday night.

Japan and ASEAN established the ASEAN-Japan forum in 1973 which marked the beginning of the two sides’ cooperative partnership. Over the last 40 years, Japan is fully involved in all ASEAN-led dialogue processes and cooperation frameworks.

Premier Abe said for the last 40 years Japan has always supported the prosperity and stability for Southeast Asia, and Japan will continue to contribute to the region’s infrastructural improvement and human resource development.

“Let me make the commitment as the Prime Minster of Japan, Japan will continue to remain a strong partner to ASEAN no matter what challenge and difficulties ahead,” Abe said.

Japan, the third largest economy worldwide, wants to expand ties and strengthen relationships with ASEAN as the country is struggling to exit deflation and economic stagnancy.

Japan is ASEAN’s second largest trading partner, the bilateral trade reached $273.35 billion in 2011, a 32.3 percent increase from 2010. Meanwhile, Japan is the second largest source of foreign direct investment, with a share of 17.1 percent of total foreign investment to ASEAN in 2011.

ASEAN’s economies have been resilient last year compared with weak growth in the United States and Europe. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s 2012 forecasts show Southeast Asia’s economic growth will return to a average of 5.5 percent over the next five years.

The ten ASEAN countries — Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — offer a growing source of demand for Japanese products due to strong domestic consumption with about 600 million people. –(Xinhua)