Skipping US, Abe to visit Southeast Asia
TOKYO - Agence France-Presse
Japan’s Premier Abe said he wanted to make the US his first destination.AP photoJapanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit three Southeast Asian countries next week, the government said yesterday, after abandoning a plan to make Washington the first destination of his term.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Abe will visit Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia from Jan. 16 to 19, his first foreign tour since taking office last month. “It is important that we strengthen relations of cooperation with ASEAN countries to secure the peace and prosperity, as the strategic environment changes,” he said. Japan has courted the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which has served as a major economic growth driver in the region, as something of a counterbalance to the rising might of China.
Abe had earlier said he wanted to make the United States his first destination, stressing the importance of reinvigorating Tokyo’s relationship with Washington. But White House officials have said President Barack Obama’s schedule was tight, as he prepares for his inauguration ceremony, the State of the Union address and a new cabinet, along with a number of foreign policy challenges. Suga said Japan would continue to negotiate with the White House to schedule a visit soon.
In a separate development, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida called yesterday for stronger ties with the Philippines to help ensure regional peace, amid tense territorial disputes by both countries with a rising China. Kishida said such cooperation was dictated by big changes in the region’s security equation.