Abe's new cabinet leaders begin visits to Southeast Asia, Australia
Tokyo's new Cabinet has wasted no time in seeking to hem in China diplomatically, as Japan's new foreign minister prepared to start his visit to Southeast Asia and Australia on Wednesday.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his key Cabinet members' trips this month to eight countries have sent a clear signal that the officials intend to rein in China, observers said.
The hastily planned trips are aimed at boosting Japan's strategic presence in the region, the experts said, but the Japanese officials' trips may not turn out as fruitful as Tokyo expects.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida on Tuesday confirmed his six-day visit schedule from Wednesday to the Philippines, Singapore, Brunei and Australia in his maiden voyage as the country's top diplomat.
Kishida will have building mutual trust as the top topic of his talks with his counterparts of each nation, and he will stress the importance of "maintaining regional peace and stability".
Tokyo's sweeping trip in the region has shown its triple geopolitical pursuits there - local natural resources, navigation freedom, and the encirclement of China, said Yang Baoyun, an expert on Southeast Asian studies at Peking University.
Taro Aso, Japanese deputy prime minister and finance minister, wrapped up a visit to Myanmar last week, offering Tokyo's low-interest loans and a promise for writing off Naypyitaw's overdue debt.
Given China's rise in the Asia-Pacific region, the foreign minister's maiden trip targets deepening cooperation with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Japan's Jiji Press News Agency commented.
Kishida aims to consult with his counterparts over maritime cooperation between Japan and their own countries as China "becomes increasingly assertive" in issues concerning the East China Sea and the South China Sea, Japan's Kyodo News Agency said.
Lu Yaodong, director of the department of Japanese diplomacy of the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Japan will enhance ties mainly with those countries that have rival territorial claims against China in the region.
"Seeking more political and defense support tops Tokyo's diplomacy with the Southeast Asian countries, and in addition to its pragmatic pursuit, Tokyo is yearning for more potential to tap into the market there compared to Aso's visit to Myanmar," Lu said.
Kishida's trip schedule was released just one day after Tokyo on Monday said Abe may travel to Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia for the leader's first state visit.
The prime minister's planned visit "serves as a collaboration" with his foreign minister's Southeast Asian trip in boosting Tokyo's overall diplomacy in Asia, Japan's newspaper Mainichi Shimbun commented on Tuesday.
Abe turned to Southeast Asia in haste after Washington made clear that US President Barack Obama, who will be inaugurated to a second four-year term of office later this month, didn't have time to meet with Abe in January.
The Abe Cabinet's top priority for foreign ties is boosting the traditional US-Japan alliance. Meanwhile, Tokyo and Washington "have been utilizing each other in the region as part of Washington's pivot-to-Asia strategy," Yang Baoyun said.
Japan's Asahi Television warned that things may not go as expected by the prime minister.
Although the diplomatic debut of Abe's second term as the top leader geographically steers clear of China, it is still "centering around China" as its diplomatic core in the region, said Liu Jiangyong, an expert on Japanese studies and the deputy dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University.
"Tokyo knows that it cannot confront Beijing directly, and that's why it depends on its alliance with the US while seeking any regional players that it can collaborate with, including Australia and some ASEAN countries," Liu said.
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