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Monday, November 18, 2013, 07:28
Abe busy in ASEAN blitz aimed at Beijing
By Wu Jiao, Zhang Yunbi in Beijing and Cai Hong in Tokyo

Japanese leader sweeps Southeast Asian nations in less than a year

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has visited all ASEAN nations since he took office last December, a move analysts said aims to shore up Tokyo's ties with the region to counter China's rising presence.

With his latest visits to Cambodia and Laos over the weekend, Abe concluded a diplomacy blitz in Southeast Asia.

Abe focused on expanding economic ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and playing up the China factor, especially the South China Sea maritime issue between China and some ASEAN members.

Japan Times quoted a Japanese Foreign Ministry official last week as saying that the visits were "at a lightning pace" compared with Abe's predecessors. The newspaper said "ASEAN countries are the vital part of Japan's diplomatic strategy to keep China in check".

Abe is also due to host a special summit with ASEAN leaders in Tokyo from Dec 13 to 15 to mark the 40th anniversary of exchanges with ASEAN.

But Abe has not yet held formal talks with leaders from China and South Korea, with whom ties have been stalled by the hawkish Japanese leader's hard-line policy on territorial disputes and his unapologetic attitude toward Japan's 20th-century wartime atrocities in the two countries.

Chinese experts said Abe has been targeting China in designing his diplomatic strategy in Asia.

Since taking office, Abe's diplomatic strategy is essentially focused on countering China by promoting value-oriented diplomacy, said Lu Yaodong, director of the department of Japanese diplomacy of the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Abe mentioned China during his visits to almost all 10 Southeast Asian countries, and he aims to isolate China, especially by playing up the growing maritime issue, Lu said.

Among the ASEAN nations, Abe is trying hard to consolidate Japan's closer relations with Indonesia and the Philippines, analysts said.

Now he is trying to strengthen ties by visiting Laos and Cambodia, traditional friends of China.

The last time a Japanese leader visited the two countries for purely bilateral purposes was under former prime minister Keizo Obuchi in 2000.

Experts said Japan has been hyping South China Sea tension to gain popularity in the region.

Brunei, the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia have disputes with China over the South China Sea.

Lu said, "Abe is trying to hijack some countries that are not contending parties to the South China Sea issue, forcing them to take sides."

Japan's focus on the South China Sea issue is part of Washington's strategy in the Asia-Pacific, and Tokyo believes that the Philippines may seek Japan's military aid when a conflict takes place with China, said Ma Junwei, deputy director of the Institute of Japanese Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

Wu Shicun, president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, said most of the Southeast Asian nations won't take sides.

"The regional players always act out of their own national interests and seek balance among powers, posing no offense to any side," Wu said.

Jiang Yuechun, director of the Department for World Economy and Development at the China Institute of International Studies, said the economy plays a part in Abe's visits.

Southeast Asia has been a traditional market for Japanese businesses, and Abe is looking for a boost from the region to lift the Japanese economy, Jiang said.

"A growing number of Japanese firms have been moving production to Southeast Asia since Japan's relations with China and South Korea became strained," Jiang said.

During his ASEAN tours, Abe has been pushing for large infrastructure projects and easing visa requirements to attract more ASEAN travelers.

Ministers from ASEAN countries said on Friday they have endorsed Japan's proposal for cooperation to ensure a "smart" information and communications technology network in the region, during which Japan will assist ASEAN countries to popularize high-speed broadband.

Abe has traveled to 23 countries in 10 months, far more than any other sitting prime minister in the past decade, Japan Times reported.

Contact the writer at wujiao@chinadaily.com.cn

 
 
 
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