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Asean's business appeal draws Abe

Publication Date : 16-01-2013


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe leaves today for a swing through three Southeast Asian capitals aimed not only at tapping Asean's economic growth but also at boosting security ties to check rising Chinese maritime ambitions.

Abe's visit to Hanoi, Bangkok and Jakarta underscores the importance placed by his administration on ties with Southeast Asia.

The groundwork was laid by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso, who visited Myanmar early in the new year to register Japan's interest in contributing to the impoverished country's economic development.

Also, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida recently completed a four-nation tour that included visits to three other Asean capitals - Manila, Singapore and Bandar Seri Begawan.

Explaining the purpose of his trip, Abe told the NHK television network over the weekend: "Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam continue to grow. We want to strengthen ties with these countries as Asean will soon become a big economic entity."

He also told a press conference that he wanted to enhance cooperation with Asean in the economic, energy and security fields, as a means of contributing to regional stability.

With revitalisation of the economy Abe's top priority, he no doubt considers it important for Japan to share in Asean's robust economic growth.

Japan's ongoing row with China over rival claims to the Senkaku islands - known as Diaoyu to the Chinese - is also behind the Prime Minister's eagerness to strengthen regional security ties.

The Senkaku row has clouded Japan's trade and investment ties with China at a time when Japanese businessmen are looking at Asean not just as an alternative investment location to China but also as an expanding market for Japanese products.

Tokyo is said to be particularly keen on deepening security ties with Southeast Asian countries that are entangled in long-simmering territorial spats with China in the South China Sea.

Abe's aides had reportedly urged him to pay an early trip to the region to bolster ties with Japan's long-time partners there, which could help forge a coordinated response to China's aggressive maritime expansion. When plans to make Washington the Prime Minister's first overseas port of call fell through due to scheduling problems, Asean went to the top of his diplomatic agenda.

Although Japan and China have, of late, sent out feelers to each other to improve ties, there have been no concrete moves to do so.

There are no indications that Abe will visit Beijing soon, as he did when he first became premier in September 2006, to put relations back on an even keel.

Meanwhile, he is said to be trying to revive a strategy he first floated in 2006, involving teaming up with major regional democracies - including India and Australia - to check a rising China.

But Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr told reporters in Sydney, after meeting Kishida on Sunday, that better ties with Japan did not mean "containment of China".

On Friday, at a ceremony in Jakarta to mark the 40th anniversary of Japan-Asean ties, Abe is expected to deliver a keynote policy speech to give an update on Japan's Asian diplomacy. The Japanese media has already dubbed it the "Abe Doctrine".

It is a reference to the "Fukuda Doctrine", announced in 1977 by then Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda, in which he pledged Japan's commitment to peace. It has served as the foundation of Japan's diplomacy towards the region.


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