Japan PM Abe visiting Asean countries to boost ties, counter China

In Singapore, he will hold talks with American V-P Joe Biden

FRESH from Sunday's victory in Upper House elections, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is visiting South-east Asia to further cement ties with Asean and to rally the region against a perceived security threat from China.

He leaves today for a three- day trip to Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines. While in Singapore, Mr Abe will also hold talks with visiting United States Vice-President Joe Biden.

Tokyo is due to host a Japan- Asean summit in December to commemorate their fruitful 40-year-old partnership.

"In order to strengthen the Japan-Asean relationship, there has to be strong and sound bilateral relations with individual Asean countries," said a senior Japanese foreign ministry official.

In the three capitals, Mr Abe will discuss bilateral and regional issues with his hosts and brief them on his so-called Abenomics prescription for revitalising the Japanese economy.

Tomorrow, he delivers the 33rd Singapore Lecture, which will focus on his growth strategies to revive the Japanese economy and how they might benefit the Asean economies. One pillar of these strategies is tripling Japan's infrastructural exports to 30 trillion yen (S$380 billion) by 2020.

Apart from selling high-speed rail systems and other infrastructure to South-east Asia, Japan is also keen to work with Singapore to export infrastructure to third countries, said the official.

He pointed out that medium- sized Japanese firms have the technology but not the experience of doing business abroad, while Singapore companies have both the experience and the connections. "If we combine, we can have good business chance, such as in the Mekong area," he said.

Singapore and Japanese companies are already working together to build industrial parks in India.

Mr Abe's meeting with Mr Biden, meanwhile, appears aimed at demonstrating the close ties between the two countries, as well as underlining the strong US presence in the region.

A White House statement said the two leaders will affirm the "enduring strength" of the US- Japan alliance as a cornerstone of peace and stability in the region.

The meeting will also allow Mr Biden to brief Mr Abe on the US-China strategic and economic dialogue held in Washington earlier this month.

The Japanese media has speculated that Mr Abe's latest visit to the region is also aimed again at keeping China in check.

China's growing maritime activities in the region, which come amid its dispute with several Asean states over the Spratlys and other islands in the South China Sea, and its feud with Japan over the Senkaku islands - which the Chinese call Diaoyu - have caused increasing concern.

In the face of China's growing naval presence, Tokyo is considering a request by Manila for the purchase of 10 patrol boats using cheap yen loans.

Mr Abe visited Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia in January soon after coming to office and travelled to Myanmar in May.

But he is the first Japanese prime minister to make an official visit to Singapore in 11 years, and the first to visit Malaysia and the Philippines in six years.

He is said to want to visit all 10 Asean nations before the East Asia Summit later this year.

wengkin@sph.com.sg