Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida plans to go to the Philippines in his first overseas trip as a member of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet, government sources said.
His visit, which could begin as early as Wednesday, has been arranged as part of Abe’s efforts to strengthen Japan’s ties with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations at a time when China is asserting its territorial and other claims in the region with increasing forcefulness.
Kishida is expected to discuss bilateral cooperation on maritime security, including the possible provision of coast guard vessels, with his Philippine counterpart, Alberto del Rosario, according to the sources.
The two are also likely to discuss strengthening a regional network of countries calling for the observance of international rules, including free passage in sea lanes, in the face of China’s growing military and diplomatic clout.
Beijing is pushing its claim to the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, while it is involved in sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea with various ASEAN member states, notably the Philippines and Vietnam.
The Abe administration, which was launched in late December after the Liberal Democratic Party won the Dec. 16 general election, embraces Japan’s alliance with the U.S. as the cornerstone of its foreign policy.
At the same time, however, one of its central strategies is to boost Japan’s leverage with China by strengthening security and energy cooperation, among other areas, with countries in Southeast Asia. It is also eager to forge closer ties with such countries as India and Australia.
Meanwhile, this year marks the 40th anniversary of the foundation of exchanges between Tokyo and ASEAN, with preparations under way to hold a special summit of the heads of the regional bloc’s 10 member countries — the first event of its kind in a decade — in Japan this December. Kishida is expected to help smooth arrangements for the gathering during his visit to the Philippines.
ASEAN consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.