Japan's Abe in Thailand to talk economic ties, security

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Thailand today, part of a three-country South-east Asian tour to consolidate business ties in one of the world's fastest-growing regions and counter growing Chinese assertiveness.

Tension remains high over China's claims on parts of the strategically vital and mineral-rich South China Sea that are also claimed by four South-east Asian countries including Vietnam, which Mr Abe visited on Wednesday.

Mr Abe and his Thai counterpart Yingluck Shinawatra gave no indication at a news conference after talks whether any progress had been made on this issue, making only general comments about security that did not mention the South China Sea.

The Japanese premier leaves for Jakarta on Friday, where he is expected to give a major policy speech.

Relations between Tokyo and Beijing have been frosty since a dispute over islands in the East China Sea, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, flared up last year. Violent anti-Japanese protests have been staged in Chinese cities.

"China has successfully built up its own military power but for what? We celebrate China's economic growth but it's not a good idea to threaten others or urge others by coercion or intimidation," said Japanese foreign ministry official Yutaka Yokoi in Bangkok.

Having taken on the role of mediator in the multi-layered South China Sea disputes, Thailand has said it would listen to what Japan has to say but would also take into consideration the views of other countries involved.

Analysts have said Mr Abe will have to tread carefully in South-east Asia to avoid provoking China by appearing to be trying to "contain" it. Moreover, his hosts will be keen to avoid upsetting China, now their major economic partner.

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