TOKYO - Japan will pledge billions of dollars in aid and loans to Southeast Asia on Saturday, the latest stage of a charm offensive to woo global public opinion in a dispute with China.
Tokyo is expected to announce fresh cash for members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) at a celebratory summit to mark 40 years of ties with the bloc.
The money will crown a year of courting by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has visited all 10 countries in the grouping at least once since he came to power, always with one eye on wresting back influence in the region from China.
Asia's two largest economies are locked in a fractious spat over the sovereignty of a small chain of islands in the East China Sea, and Japan is keen to garner support for its position against what it says is an increasingly aggressive Beijing.
The case has taken on a greater urgency since China's declaration last month of an Air Defence Identification Zone (Adiz) over the East China Sea - including the contested archipelago.
Beijing said all aircraft entering the zone have to submit flight plans and obey orders issued by Chinese authorities, in an announcement that was widely criticised as inflammatory.
That came after more than 12 months of confrontations between Japanese and Chinese coastguards in the seas near the islands, as well as forays by military and paramilitary planes, and shows of strength by naval vessels.
Some fear the Adiz in the East China Sea is a forerunner to a similar zone in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims almost entirely.