Abe's aims in Asean not a worry for China

Abe's aims in Asean not a worry for China
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe opened the forum on Friday night with a high-profile speech full of thinly veiled comments targeting China.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's expressed intention to build closer security ties with Asean may displease China, but Beijing will not overly worry given its strong ties with the South-east Asian grouping.

As for Asean, at least one member has openly welcomed Japan's move. Most, however, have kept silent - indicating that states without any territorial dispute with China are treating it with caution.

Mr Abe, in his keynote speech on Friday at the Shangri-La Dialogue, said Japan "will offer its utmost support for the efforts of the countries of Asean as they work to ensure the security of the seas and the skies, and thoroughly maintain freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight".

While he did not elaborate on what the support might be, he pointed out that Japan has provided three new patrol vessels to Indonesia through grant aid, and that it will provide 10 such vessels to the Philippines. It is also looking at the possibility of providing such vessels to Vietnam.

Analysts said Mr Abe could have several motivations for such a move. For one thing, it could divert China's attention and resources from the East China Sea, where the two neighbours have rival claims over the islands known to the Chinese as Diaoyu and to the Japanese as Senkaku.

Beijing has been challenging Tokyo's control of the islands by sending ships to the area periodically.

More broadly, said Associate Professor Li Mingjiang of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Mr Abe is hoping to build a "loose regional coalition against China so as to put pressure on China and try to make China less assertive" in its maritime and territorial disputes with states in the region.

Indonesia has openly welcomed Mr Abe's move, and other states with overlapping claims with China are likely to support it too, as it will likely bolster their confidence.

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