Abe to strengthen ASEAN ties to contain China's maritime advances

Jan 12, 2013- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will emphasize strengthened economic ties with Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia next week, but his trip to Southeast Asia will also give him a chance to solidify cooperation against China’s maritime advances.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

"I want to deepen cooperation in economics, energy and national security with ASEAN, where a large economic zone has been born and which has a growing population," Abe said at a Jan. 11 news conference, referring to his trip that starts on Jan. 16.

Japan and Southeast Asian nations share common concerns about Chinese activities in the East China Sea and South China Sea.

Like Japan's territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands, a number of Association of Southeast Asian nations also have diplomatic spats with China over various islands in the South China Sea.

Abe had initially said he wanted to make the United States the destination of his first overseas visit after becoming prime minister, but the busy schedule of U.S. President Barack Obama led to an abandonment of that objective.

Members of Abe's Cabinet have already set the stage for his visit to Southeast Asia.

Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso visited Myanmar from Jan. 2 and informed his counterparts that Japan was prepared to provide about 50 billion yen ($562 million) in loans by late March.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida met with his Philippine counterpart, Albert del Rosario, on Jan. 10 and confirmed the need for cooperation in maritime issues. Kishida also said Japan would provide loans of about 54 billion yen for railway and airport construction.

When Abe first served as prime minister in 2006, Aso, who was then foreign minister, proposed making the area from Southeast Asia to central and eastern Europe an "arc of freedom and prosperity." The plan was to have Japan support moves toward democracy and economic development in those areas.

While that plan also had a similar objective of containing China, Abe will be seeking a somewhat different form of cooperation in his visit.

"The visit to ASEAN nations will be extremely important,” he said at the Jan. 11 news conference. “I want to express my ideas about Asian diplomacy."

That indicated he might present his own doctrine, much like Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda did in 1977, when he gave a speech in the Philippines that outlined his basic policy for Southeast Asian diplomacy. That served as the basis for what came to be known as the "Fukuda Doctrine."

(This article was written by Isamu Nikaido and Shinichi Sekine.)