Abe to embark on Asia tour ‘amid rising Chinese assertiveness’

Tokyo, Jan 11 (IANS) Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit the Philippines, Australia, Indonesia and Vietnam on a six-day trip starting Thursday aimed at strengthening security cooperation in the face of Chinas rising maritime assertiveness, the media reported.

Abe’s Asia-Pacific tour also comes as uncertainties loom over the incoming US administration’s commitment to the region following the January 20 inauguration of US President-elect Donald Trump, who has suggested he will shift to a protectionist trade policy.

“The trips are aimed at reaffirming the importance of the US alliance network in the Asia-Pacific region and strengthening coordination with major countries in the region,” a senior official told the Japan Times on Wednesday.

“Japan hopes to fulfil a leading role in promoting close coordination with Asia-Pacific nations at a time when uncertainties are increasing in the political, security and economic fields,” the official added.

During the trip, Abe is likely to highlight the importance of multilateral free trade pacts.

Trade partners are now watching whether Trump, as he earlier pledged, would pull the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP ) free trade deal, reached with Japan and 10 other nations, said the report.

The TPP has been led by outgoing President Barack Obama as a major component of his strategic Asia “pivot,” or “rebalancing,” to the region.

Abe would also discuss with the four nations concerns about China’s military buildup in disputed South China Sea, which were renewed when China’s sole aircraft carrier sailed into the Western Pacific in December, according to Japanese officials.

Abe’s first stopover will be the Philippines on Thursday. Then he would be meeting Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Saturday.

On Sunday, Abe will travel to Indonesia, where he is expected to confirm with Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo cooperation in maritime security and economic development.

In Vietnam, Abe will meet Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, President Tran Dai Quang and other top officials to strengthen the bilateral relationship.

Abe is likely to offer patrol vessels to help Vietnam strengthen its maritime patrol capabilities amid China’s rising maritime assertiveness, the officials said.

He would return to Japan on Tuesday next week.