Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe left Sunday for the Group of 20 leaders’ summit in China, to be followed by a series of meetings connected with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Laos, aiming to address risks related to the global economy and festering regional security issues.
“We will put the global economy back on a growth track. I want to take the lead in discussions to that end,” Abe told reporters at Tokyo’s Haneda airport.
At the G-20 summit in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou on Sunday and Monday, Abe is expected to extend to a wider group of countries a pledge to use all available policy tools to promote global economic growth, which was agreed on at the Group of Seven summit that Japan hosted in late May.
According to Japanese officials, Abe will push for a shared recognition of the downside risks facing the global economy and a commitment to lessening trade barriers and investing in high-quality infrastructure.
The G-20 groups Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
Since the G-7 summit in Mie Prefecture, global economic concerns have included not just the fallout from Britain’s vote in June to exit the European Union, but also uncertainty over the outlook for emerging economies and an oversupply of resources, notably Chinese steel exports.
Against this background, the G-20 summit offers the potential for rare talks between Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The leaders have held just two sit-down meetings since both took power in 2012, due in part to tensions over the sovereignty of the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which China also claims, and China’s expansionary activities at sea in general.
Nearly two months after an international court of arbitration dismissed China’s territorial claims in much of the South China Sea in a case brought by the Philippines, the issue will likely continue to cast its shadow over the G-20 summit.
The South China Sea issue is also expected to loom over the ASEAN meetings in the Laotian capital of Vientiane from Tuesday through Thursday. The 10-nation bloc includes members deeply concerned about China’s moves but also some that are bound to stick up for Beijing in light of its massive assistance to less-developed parts of the region.
ASEAN foreign ministers agonized over the wording of a joint communique when they met in July in the wake of the ruling, stopping short of specifically referring to the case.
Prior to his departure, Abe reiterated Tokyo’s positions that it is important to abide by the rule of law and that freedom of navigation is guaranteed.
“I will express the clear Japanese positions in the issues of the East and South China seas,” he said.
Abe is expected to work to keep Japan-China relations on a broad recovery track in his talks with Xi but must navigate tricky issues at each summit, maritime security aside.
At the G-20, they should include the impact of China-linked factors on the global economy. Proceedings at the ASEAN gatherings may be colored by the rivalry between Japan and China in investing in the region.
On the possible bilateral talks with South Korean President Park Geun-hye while in Laos, Abe said, “As there are various issues, I want to have a thorough discussion and develop the relationship toward the future.”
The flurry of meetings in Abe’s Vientiane diary include a Japan-ASEAN summit; another adding Chinese and South Korean leaders; the East Asia Summit, bringing together Japan, China and South Korea plus Australia, India, New Zealand, Russia and the United States; and a summit with the Mekong nations of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.
ASEAN groups the Mekong states and Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore.
Abe is tipped to hold talks with U.S. President Barack Obama in Laos, with economic cooperation and concerns over North Korea’s nuclear and missile development efforts likely to be on the agenda.
Before ASEAN proceedings begin, Abe is scheduled to meet with Laotian Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith.
Laos, which has strong economic ties with China, is chairing the various meetings, and Abe may seek a reflection of Japan’s viewpoints in the chairman’s statements, according to Japanese officials.
Abe’s trip comes on the heels of talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday on the sidelines of an economic forum in Vladivostok.
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