Abe woos Laos, Cambodia
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seeking to compete with China for influence in Southeast Asia, with visits this weekend to the two Asean states regarded as closest to Beijing. Stops in Cambodia tomorrow and Laos on Sunday will complete the Japanese leader&’s visits to all 10 Asean states ahead of a meeting next month that Tokyo will host for its leaders, aimed at elevating Japan&’s regional role and boosting cultural ties.
“Abe&’s visit is no doubt aimed at curbing China&’s influence,” said Professor Koichi Sato, China scholar at J.F. Oberlin University in Tokyo. “In the Indochinese states, Japan comes up short against China.”
Significantly, this trip to Southeast Asia will be Abe&’s first following two key regional meetings last month, remembered for a last-minute no-show by US President Barack Obama due to budgetary problems at home. The US leader&’s absence from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum in Bali and the East Asia Summit (EAS) in Bandar Seri Begawan served to raise Beijing&’s profile in the region. But Beijing&’s increasingly strong-arm tactics over rival claims to several groups of islands and marine resources in the South China Sea present a growing concern for the region. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal late last month, Abe said he was seeking a more assertive role for Japan to counter rising Chinese military power.
Although China has declared that it has no military ambitions in the region, Beijing is currently embroiled in a tense diplomatic row with Manila, which is challenging China&’s claims in the South China Sea at a United Nations tribunal. Japan is taking every opportunity to raise its own regional profile. With the Philippines reeling from last week&’s super typhoon Haiyan, Tokyo has decided to mount its largest-ever international relief operation, dispatching 1,000 military personnel and pledging US$10 million in aid.
The Straits Times