Japan PM Abe to put forward Tokyo as counterweight to China

May 30, 2014 - 12:00:00 am

TOKYO:  Japan’s prime minister will lay out a vision of Tokyo as a counterweight to the growing might of China this weekend, at a major security forum set to be dominated by escalating regional disputes.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will tell the so-called Shangri-La Dialogue that Japan and its partner the United States stand ready to jointly bolster security cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), the Sankei Shimbun newspaper reported.

He will stop short of singling out China, the paper added, but there will be little doubt about where he thinks the blame lies for the various rows in the South China Sea, and in Japan’s own battle with Beijing over East China Sea islands.

Abe will likely “announce his aim to play more active roles in Asia by using the Japan-US alliance as the foundation,” said Koichi Nakano, professor at Tokyo’s Sophia University.  

The nationalist premier has set about reshaping the rules of engagement for Japan’s powerful, though little-used, military as he pushes a doctrine he has dubbed “proactive pacifism.”

He has offered support  to Manila and Hanoi, in the form of coastguard vessels and public pronouncements.

Both are engaged in corrosive territorial rows with Beijing, and both are heavily outgunned by China, whose military has enjoyed double-digit budget rises annually for more than a decade.

Abe will be hoping that other countries in the region will see that succour as a sign of Japan’s willingness to engage, offering them an alternative to Chinese power from the only country with the military clout.

During his keynote speech today which kicks off the three-day Asia Security Summit in Singapore, Abe will urge China to respect the rule of law, Kyodo News said, at a time that the impression is growing in the region that the world’s number two economy is becoming increasingly assertive.

Abe will call for “constructive discussions,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, to take the heat out of rows that pit China against a number of Asean countries, as well as Tokyo against Beijing.

“We hope that various constructive discussions will take place toward this region’s peace and safety” at the forum, he said.

Since 2012, Abe has assiduously courted Asean, visiting all 10 member countries at least once.

He has still not been to China, nor met with Xi Jinping, its president.                                   AFP