Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is visiting Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia on a four-day trip starting Wednesday, his first foreign visits since taking office last month. Ahead of Mr. Abe's visits, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso made trips to other countries in the region, including Singapore. The visits are intended to promote the new Japanese administration's emphasis on building ties with Southeast Asia and maritime cooperation, amid disputes with China.
Analysis: Abe diplomacy starts with Southeast Asia [Yomiuri Shimbun, 15 Jan 2013]
Earlier this month Finance Minister Taro Aso visited Myanmar, which Japan is looking at as a market for investment, while Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida travelled to Philippines, Singapore, Brunei and Australia with a focus on strategic ties. Mr. Abe's government aims to have a new formal strategy of greater engagement with countries in ASEAN, and others like Australia.
Speaking ahead of his visit, Mr. Abe said: "I would like to deepen ties with ASEAN not only economically but also in fields of energy and security."
The move comes amidst troubled relations between Japan and China, which have also affected economic ties between the two countries. Relations were already strained over maritime disputes even before Mr. Abe's Liberal Democratic Party swept to power last month. Recently, there has also been speculation Mr. Abe's government might reviewing a 1993 statement where Japan admitted comfort women were forcibly taken in World War II.
In this context, Mr. Abe's administration is hoping other Asian countries will be willing to strengthen relations with Japan.
"[China] also has various problems in the South China Sea. How to deal with China is a common issue for the countries concerned," Foreign Minister Kishida said on Sunday, in Australia.
Notably, Mr. Abe's interest in Southeast Asia coincides with US President Barack Obama's strategic shift to Asia.
Mr. Abe originally planned on visiting the United States as his first official trip after taking office, but the visit was postponed at the White House's request due to Mr. Obama's tight schedule.