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Abe eyes visiting some ASEAN members in late July


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considering visiting some members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, such as the Philippines and Malaysia, in late July, probably after the upper house election slated for July 21, a government source said Sunday.

Abe is apparently aiming to strengthen cooperation with countries involved in territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea, at a time when Tokyo is locked in a territorial row with Beijing over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

He also expects economic growth in the ASEAN region to stir the Japanese economy, according to the source.

The Philippines and Malaysia are in dispute with China over the sovereignty of the Spratly Islands, a widely scattered group of atolls, islets, cays, and rocky outcrops in the South China Sea.

Tokyo perceives the two ASEAN members as "strategic partners that share interests with Japan," the source said.

The Spratlys are claimed in whole by China, Taiwan and Vietnam, and in part by Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines. The ASEAN members and China are involved in prior consultations for starting talks on drawing up norms of conducts to prevent conflicts in the South China Sea.

Abe has focused on diplomacy with Southeast Asian nations, visiting Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia in January and Myanmar in May.