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Abe looking to boost ties at ASEAN

Kyodo

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will attend the East Asia Summit and other ASEAN-related meetings in Brunei on Wednesday and Thursday, aiming to reaffirm cooperation with his counterparts from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for the success of a special summit they plan to hold in Tokyo in mid-December.

On the margins of the regional summits, Abe is scheduled to hold bilateral talks with the leaders of Brunei, which is hosting the regional meetings as this year’s chairman of ASEAN, and of Australia and New Zealand.

One big question is whether Abe will be able to schedule meetings with the leaders of China and South Korea, with which Tokyo has rocky ties due to territorial disputes and differing interpretations of history.

China is not entertaining holding a meeting between Premier Li Keqiang and Abe on the sidelines, Liu Zhenmin, vice foreign minister in charge of Asian affairs, said Monday. Similarly, no talks have so far been scheduled between South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Abe.

At a summit with ASEAN leaders Wednesday, Abe is expected to reiterate Japan’s focus on forging stronger ties with ASEAN amid strained ties with China, with which Japan has competing territorial claims over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. Some ASEAN members are also involved in maritime disputes with Beijing.

Abe is expected to attend a Thursday summit between ASEAN members and three Northeast Asia countries — Japan, China and South Korea — in the format known as ASEAN-plus-three, where they are expected to reaffirm cooperation in finance and food security.

At the 18-member East Asia Summit later that day, Abe and other leaders are expected to discuss tensions in the South China Sea and welcome the start of formal talks between ASEAN and China on a code of conduct aimed at preventing clashes among countries with rival claims over regional waters.

On the sidelines of Wednesday’s meeting, Abe is scheduled to hold bilateral talks with Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.