Abe to visit 3 ASEAN nations to strengthen ties with region

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, starting his third trip to Southeast Asia this year on Thursday, aims to strengthen security and economic ties between Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations through his meetings with the leaders of Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines.

The Japanese leader's three-day tour of the region is part of his continuing efforts to build ties with countries that share with Japan such values as democracy and a market economy, a diplomatic maneuver that many observers say amounts to an attempt at containment of China.

With China becoming increasingly assertive in regional waters, Japan is involved in a territorial dispute with it in the East China Sea, while Malaysia and the Philippines are embroiled in a separate territorial dispute with it in the South China Sea.

During a meeting in Manila on Saturday, Abe and his Philippine counterpart, President Benigno Aquino, are expected to confirm Tokyo's plans to supply patrol ships to Manila as part of its efforts to beef up the Philippines' coast guard, according to Japanese officials.

Last year, Manila asked Tokyo for 10 such patrol ships.

In a bid to help achieve peace between the Philippine government and the country's largest Muslim rebel group on Mindanao, Abe is expected to unveil a new package of official development assistance to the Philippines at the summit.

In meetings with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Singapore on Friday, Abe is expected to explain his economic policy and Tokyo's position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations, which Japan officially joined Tuesday.

Both Malaysia and Singapore are already members of the talks, which are aimed at creating one of the world's largest free trade areas. The latest round of TPP talks is being held in Malaysia through Thursday.

Also Friday in Singapore, Abe plans to meet with U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, who is scheduled to be in the city state then after visiting India. The two men are expected to agree to strengthen Japan-U.S. ties following the landslide victory by Abe's ruling coalition in Sunday's House of Councillors election.

Abe, who became prime minister in late December, made his first trip abroad as new Japanese leader in January, visiting three of the 10 ASEAN members -- Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia. In May, he visited another ASEAN country, Myanmar.

Japan and ASEAN are marking the 40th anniversary of their friendly ties this year, with a special Japan-ASEAN summit scheduled to be held in Tokyo in mid-December.

Abe is scheduled to return to Japan on Saturday night.