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Publication Date : 21-01-2013
But PM makes little progress in quest to diplomatically isolate China
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's just-concluded maiden visit to three Southeast Asian countries last week saw enhanced trade ties with the region, but his bid to make Asean countries side with Japan against China got little support from his host countries, observers said.
During Abe's tour to Vietman, Thailand and Indonesia last week, his first overseas visit since assuming office in December, he focused on topics such as economic ties and protection of the seas.
At a news conference in Jakarta on Friday, Abe listed five principles of his Asean diplomacy, including an "open ocean, ruled not by power but by law ... and we and Asean will protect this with all our might", he said.
Commenting on Abe's policy toward Asean, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Qin Gang called on Japan on Saturday to have a responsible attitude in order to benefit the stability and development of Asia.
On land and sea disputes, China "has always advocated resolving issues between the countries involved through dialogue and peaceful means," Qin said.
"This is also the consensus of Asian countries," he stressed.
Analysts said Abe's aim is to provide Japan's stagnant economy with new sources of growth and help counterbalance the economic and military strength of China by boosting relations with Southeast Asia.
Abe's conservative government took power in December, facing challenges in a flagging economy and managing the escalating row with China over the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea.
Many Japanese companies are turning to Southeast Asia as an alternative to investing in China for fear that their country's row with China over the Diaoyu Islands, which flared up in September 2012 and resulted in protests in China, will lead to lasting resistance to Japanese goods and thus hurt trade.
Before Abe's visit, Japan's top leaders already had made a sweeping regional tour to strengthen the alliances in the region.
From January 9 to 14, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida visited the Philippines, Singapore, Brunei and Australia. On January 4, Taro Aso, Japan's deputy prime minister and finance minister, paid a visit to Myanmar.
Lu Yaodong, a researcher of Japanese studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Abe's aim to encircle China is obvious.
"Japan used to have good economic and trade relations with China. But now what it has done has damaged normal trade ties. By boosting relations with Southeast Asia and building up connections with some Southeast Asian countries over maritime security issues, Japan is trying to contain China," Lu said.
Due to the close economic and long historical ties between China and countries in the region, Abe will have a hard time persuading them that they should contain China, Lu said.
Bahtiar Effendy, a professor of politics at Indonesia's State Islamic University, said the economic relationships between Indonesia and Japan are far more important than their political and security ties.
"Indonesia is a big potential market for both China and Japan, and we are glad to see the competition between them as we continue to benefit from it," Effendy said in an interview with Xinhua News Agency.
Effendy's view represents the position taken by most Southeast Asian countries in their relationships with both China and Japan.
Abe's visit to Thailand is the first by a Japanese prime minister in 11 years. The two countries pledged to enhance cooperation in security and economic areas. Japan is Thailand's largest trading partner. Thailand is now Japan's highly important automotive and electronics production base.
Last year, Japan became the largest single foreign investor in Vietnam, with major investments in banking, export-orientated manufacturing and consumer goods. Japan is also Vietnam's largest aid donor.
A hostage crisis in Algeria involving Japanese workers made Abe end his trip earlier than scheduled, and he missed giving a policy speech on his new government's approach to Southeast Asia.