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Abe looking to visit ‘strategic’ ASEAN members in July

Kyodo

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considering visiting certain members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations next month, probably after the July 21 Upper House election, a government source said Sunday.

Abe is apparently aiming to strengthen ties with countries involved in territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea as it continues to feud with Beijing over the uninhabited Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

He also expects economic growth in the ASEAN region to stir Japan’s economy, the source said.

The Philippines and Malaysia are in dispute with China over the sovereignty of the Spratly Islands, a widely scattered group of atolls, islets, cays, and rocky outcrops in the South China Sea.

Tokyo perceives the two ASEAN members as “strategic partners that share interests with Japan,” the source said.

The Spratlys are claimed in whole by China, Taiwan and Vietnam, and in part by Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines. The ASEAN members and China are in prior consultations for starting talks on drawing up norms of conduct to prevent conflicts from developing in the South China Sea.

Abe has made Southeast Asia a big part of his diplomatic strategy. He visited Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia in January and Myanmar in May.