JAPAN - With prospects of staying in power long-term, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been notably active in conducting strategic diplomacy. Observers say Abe has been taking into account the international repercussions of his visiting certain countries, while also trying to strengthen economic, security and cultural ties with those nations.
They also say Abe actively makes such visits, even to small countries, if he believes it is worthwhile. He is said to view the world as a whole, as if looking at a globe.
At the start of a meeting Saturday with representatives of local businesses in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, Abe said, "You need a catalyst to fall in love with someone," indicating his hope that the visit will provide a spark for the two nations to deepen their relations.
Abe visited Bahrain on the first leg of his four-nation tour that runs until Thursday. Senior executives of about 50 Japanese companies are accompanying him on the tour, which also covers Kuwait, Djibouti and Qatar. Before his departure, Abe told reporters he was willing to lead sales promotion in the booming Gulf countries.
The economy is one of the pillars of Abe's diplomacy, which is why he personally took the trouble to introduce the economic delegates to his counterpart in Bahrain, Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, on Saturday. Middle East nations are highly observant of formalities and social standing, so diplomacy led by the prime minister should be extremely effective, a source close to the delegates said.
On Sunday, Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa bid Abe a cordial welcome by awarding him a top decoration.
Abe is expected to visit Djibouti on Tuesday, home to Maritime Self-Defence Force units engaged in an antipiracy escort operation off Somalia, to strengthen his message that he also places importance on security issues. The tour schedule is believed to have been decided in accordance with Abe's strong wishes.
Visiting all ASEAN nations
Abe has made eight foreign trips, including his current one, to 20 countries since returning to the helm of government in December. A senior Foreign Ministry official said the pace of his foreign visits must be faster than any other predecessor.
This is Abe's second visit to the Middle East. In April, he visited Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Abe hopes to enhance the stable supply of energy from these nations to Japan by bolstering relations with them, and to use that as a bargaining chip in negotiations over the import of shale gas from North America and of oil and natural gas from Russia, sources said.
Abe is believed to have taken into account the increased presence of China in the Middle East as well.
He similarly attaches weight to strengthened ties with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Abe has visited seven ASEAN nations on three trips since he returned to office. He plans to visit Cambodia, Laos and Brunei by November, which would mean he has visited all 10 ASEAN member nations.
ASEAN nations, which can provide low-cost labour, are seen as prospective business destinations by Japanese companies.
Abe told people around him he will make an official trip overseas at least once a month.
He is believed to be hoping to actively engage in summit diplomacy, as a long-term administration became possible after the ruling coalition scored resounding victories in the December 2012 House of Representatives election and the July House of Councillors election.
It used to be difficult for a prime minister to travel aboard when the Diet is in session, since he was obliged to answer questions at the Diet. But Abe instructed the Liberal Democratic Party to implement Diet reform to lessen a prime minister's obligation to attend sessions.
People around Abe refer to his latest diplomatic strategy as diplomacy that views the world like a globe, as Abe's visits to foreign countries are aimed at ascertaining how such visits will affect not only relations between Japan and those countries, but also relations between the nations and third parties such as China.
Abe, who once served as a secretary to his father, the late Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe, is said to be strongly interested in diplomacy. According to sources close to Abe, many countries have requested he visit them, reflecting their strong interest in his actions as his government is expected to last for a long time. It has even led to concern about Abe's health amid his busy traveling schedule.