Prime Minister Shinzo Abe left Sunday for a three-day visit to Thailand to attend a series of summits related to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, with an aim of making progress in negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership free trade pact.
The 16 Asian and Oceanian countries involved in that regionwide trade deal, who had hoped to strike an agreement by yearend, however, have already decided to delay the conclusion of that deal until next year.
The 16 countries “are committed to sign RCEP agreement in Vietnam,” where next year’s talks are set to take place, according to a draft of a joint statement. The statement will be released after the RCEP summit near Bangkok on Monday.
The draft showed that one of the six non-ASEAN countries has some reservations about the RCEP deal. An ASEAN source indicated that the country in question is India. The government of India has expressed concern over an expected influx of goods from China, with which the South Asian country runs a massive trade deficit.
“The few outstanding bilateral issues will be resolved by February 2020,” the draft also said.
On the sidelines of the multilateral gatherings in Bangkok, Abe is expected to hold bilateral talks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and other regional leaders.
Speaking to reporters prior to his departure from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, Abe vowed to push for advancing the RCEP talks, saying, “Japan will continue to lead negotiations so as to create an economic zone based on free and fair rules.”
The RCEP members, meanwhile, will be joined by the United States and Russia at the East Asia Summit (EAS). They will likely exchange views on regional issues, including conflicting territorial claims in the South China Sea between China and some ASEAN members.
U.S. President Donald Trump will skip that summit, with national security adviser Robert O’Brien representing the United States. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev will represent Moscow at the meeting.
In a meeting with the ASEAN countries as well as China and South Korea on Monday, Abe will seek to confirm their cooperation in dealing with North Korea, which has continued to conduct ballistic missile tests.
Abe said he will “strongly urge” other leaders to enforce U.N. sanctions on North Korea in a concerted effort with the international community to compel Pyongyang to give up its nuclear and missile programs.
Also on Monday, Abe is expected to have bilateral meetings with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
Indonesia, the Philippines, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam comprise the ASEAN group.
Abe and Li are expected to confirm they will work together to realize a state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Japan next spring.
He has no plans to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in amid soured bilateral ties over the issues of wartime compensation and trade policy, according to a Japanese government official.