Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said it was a "great honour" to be a joint winner of The Straits Times' Asian of the Year award, noting that it was a recognition of both his push to engage ASEAN and Japan's comeback in the past year.
Speaking at a press conference to wrap up a summit marking 40 years of ASEAN-Japan ties, Mr Abe said he felt very touched by the award, which was conferred on him and Chinese President Xi Jinping last week.
"I believe that this is a recognition of my thoughts towards ASEAN and Japan's contribution to the region," said Mr Abe. "The revival of Japan - Japan is back - and the revival of the Japanese economy, I believe, has been welcomed."
Instead of picking a single winner this year, The Straits Times chose both leaders to honour the domestic reforms and the regional charm offensive they have embarked on since assuming top leadership positions in their respective countries last year.
Mr Abe, who has visited all 10 ASEAN countries this year, showed no let-up in his outreach efforts on Saturday. He announced a slew of new initiatives, ranging from defence to aid and cultural exchanges, with an eye to enhancing Japan's engagement with South-east Asian countries.
Mr Abe also pledged two trillion yen (S$24.3 billion) in development assistance to ASEAN over five years and unveiled a cultural exchange policy that would involve sending more than 3,000 specialists to South-east Asia to teach the Japanese language.
The Japanese Premier further proposed holding an informal meeting among ASEAN defence ministers to discuss humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and non-traditional security challenges.
ASEAN "has always been at the centre of my diplomacy", Mr Abe said at the press conference on Saturday.