PRIME Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to use a speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue today to say that Japan is ready to bolster security cooperation with Asean together with its ally, the United States, a Japanese newspaper said.
Mr Abe is the keynote speaker at the opening of the three-day Dialogue in Singapore, an annual forum for top defence officials from the Asia- Pacific.
Enhancing security cooperation with Asean countries is believed to be aimed at keeping in check China's increasingly belligerent maritime presence in the region. China claims sovereignty over the Spratlys and Paracels - two groups of islands in the South China Sea also claimed by a few South-east Asian nations. In particular, tensions have risen of late as China continues to spar with Vietnam and the Philippines over territorial issues.
In the East China Sea, where China is locked in a dispute with Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, Mr Abe is expected to declare that Japan will work with its US ally to play a major role in maintaining the security of North-east Asia, the Sankei Shimbun said.
Without naming China, Mr Abe will, in his speech, urge all nations to reject the use of force to change the status quo and stress the importance of following the rule of law, the Sankei added.
At the same time, he will express Japan's readiness to help keep the region free to all air and sea navigation, the Japanese daily said.
As the Dialogue will be attended by defence chiefs from around the region and the US, Mr Abe is also expected to underline Japan's record as a peace-loving nation after World War II and explain his policy of proactive pacifism aimed at making greater contributions to global peace and security.
He will also take the opportunity to explain his current efforts to change the constitutional interpretation, so as to give Japan the right to mount joint military operations with the US and potentially with other friendly countries as well.
In a key foreign policy speech on Wednesday, American President Barack Obama called for "collective action" with US allies instead of going it alone, giving a boost to Mr Abe's bid to allow Japan to engage in collective self-defence.
In issues that do not pose a direct threat to the US, "we must mobilise allies and partners to take collective action", the President added.
Analysts say Mr Obama also appeared to expect US allies to play increased security roles.
Professor Ken Jimbo, a security expert at Keio University, said Mr Obama's speech naturally raises concerns among Japan and America's other Asian allies about their future roles.
These countries, said Prof Jimbo, will be concerned about what each of them will be expected to do to defend its own security interests, and how they should share the security mission with the US.
Earlier this week, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga expressed the hope that the Shangri-La Dialogue would help to reduce regional tensions.
"Considering the heightening situations in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, we hope that various constructive discussions will take place for the sake of this region's peace and safety."
Yesterday, Beijing hit back at Tokyo's claims of "dangerous" flying near the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, saying Japanese fighter jets flew recklessly close to a Chinese aircraft last year, AFP said.
Mr Abe's visit to Singapore is his second since July last year. He will call on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong tomorrow, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.