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Abe's increased focus on Asean a strategic move
Publication Date : 28-07-2013
A speech made by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday served as a strong message to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), a key economic and security partner of Japan.
During his visit to Southeast Asia, Abe delivered a speech on the Japan-Asean relationship in Singapore.
Using an airplane to describe relations between Japan and the rapidly growing region, Abe said, “Japan and Asean are like twin engines on the right and left wings.”
The prime minister said his Abenomics economic measures would benefit Asean countries as both Japan’s imports from and exports to Aseans members have doubled over the past decade. Abe is apparently determined to further bolster Japan-Asean ties.
Both Malaysia and Singapore, which Abe visited this week, are participants in negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact. Japan will likely seek ways to partner with them when the TPP talks enter the final stage.
Beyond economic alliance
Abe stressed that the nation’s relationship with Asean encompasses more than economic matters, saying the ties are “meaningful in ensuring regional security, particularly freedom of navigation at sea.”
This year marks the 40th anniversary of Japan-Asean friendship and cooperation.
He made such remarks apparently with China in mind, as Beijing has attempted to assume control of the East and South China seas. Especially now, when Japan’s ties with China and South Korea have become strained, it is strategically significant for the government to deepen its partnership with Asean.
On Friday, Abe also met with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who has been touring Asia. This meeting was seemingly effective in highlighting the Japan-U.S. alliance, which could be conducive to ensuring peace and prosperity in Southeast Asia.
Abe was to meet with Philippine President Benigno Aquino in Manila on Saturday. During the meeting, Abe was expected to express his intention to provide the Philippines with patrol ships through the Official Development Assistance programme.
The Philippines has been at loggerheads with China over the sovereignty of the Scarborough Shoal and other territories in the South China Sea. In light of this, helping the Philippines boost its maritime capability could serve as a symbolic aid gesture to benefit the whole Asean community.
Look to China allies
This is already Abe’s third visit to Southeast Asia since returning to power. Of the 10 Asean member countries, he has visited seven.
Cambodia and Laos, both nations that have close ties to China, are also Asean members. With due consideration for local circumstances in both countries, the prime minister should also visit these nations in a bid to increase their understanding of Japan.
China has apparently attempted to undermine Japan-Asean relations due to its alarm over Abe’s aggressive diplomacy in the region.
To prevent military tensions with China from escalating, it is vital for Japan to seek regional stability in line with international regulations and the spirit of the rule of law by working together with the United States and other countries.