Tokyo to pledge US$20b to Southeast Asia to win friends at Asean summit

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 December, 2013, 2:37am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 December, 2013, 2:37am

Japan is expected to pledge US$20 billion in aid to Southeast Asian countries at an 11-nation summit this weekend as it looks to shore up ties in a region increasingly dominated by China.

In a summit between Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will announce the loans and grants, to be disbursed over five years, reports said yesterday.

Abe will also announce an expansion of the Japan-Asean Integration Fund aimed at economic integration of Southeast Asian countries. Japan has expanded currency swap agreements with Indonesia and the Philippines.

The summit comes at a time when Japan is re-engaging with the region after several years in which it has been outmuscled by China's growing economic might. Japan is also hoping to rally support in its dispute with China over a chain of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino, who met Abe ahead of the summit, said the two countries reiterated "commitment to uphold the rule of law, promote the peaceful settlement of disputes, and to assure freedom of flight in international airspace".

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Southeast Asian nations were hoping Japan and China would mend their frayed ties to help minimise the risk of tensions flaring into conflict in the region.

"It must be said that good relations between China and Japan are critical to the future of our region," Yudhoyono said.

US Vice-President Joe Biden has called Abe to reassure Tokyo and call for steps to reduce tensions over China's newly declared air defence identification zone, including new bilateral mechanisms for crisis communication with China.

One week after Biden's trip to Asia, he spoke to Abe by phone on Thursday to reaffirm that the US does not recognise China's air zone, the White House said.

In his visit to Asia last week, Biden sidestepped Japan's request to publicly call for the zone to be rescinded. Instead, he urged Beijing to restrain from provocation and asked Japan to talk to China.

Earlier this week, US Air Force chief General Mark Welsh said China's air zone, if managed properly, could be a platform for communication on how to operate similar zones in the region.

"It gives us a great mandate to communicate better and understand there could potentially be mistakes and miscommunication in this kind of interchange if we establish air zones that overlay airspace where we know other nations are already operating," he said.

Chinese state media kept up their invective against Japan's complaints over the air zone yesterday, with Xinhua saying Abe was going to "stage again its China-is-to-blame game" at the Asean summit.

Agence France-Presse, Reuters