Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday embarked on a five-day visit to Canada and the United States to hold talks with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and attend a U.N. General Assembly meeting to pledge Tokyo's humanitarian support in the unfolding Syrian crisis.
"I would like to make clear our policy of contributing toward (the resolution of) the Syrian issue" when addressing the U.N. General Assembly, Abe told reporters just prior to his departure from Haneda airport.
Outside the General Assembly, Abe is likely to seize on the opportunity to talk about his achievements -- favorable effects on the economy from his "Abenomics" policy package, and what he aims to achieve by reviewing Japan's defense posture to respond to security threats.
On the first leg of the tour in Canada, Abe will seek to bolster cooperation with his counterpart Harper, with their primary focus on the ongoing negotiations for the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact, and exports of shale gas from Canada to resource-thirsty Japan, government officials said.
The leaders will also discuss cooperation between Japan's Self-Defense Forces and the Canadian Army on logistics support and other matters.
Delegates from around the world are to gather in New York for the U.N. General Assembly where the Syrian crisis will take center stage. The Japanese prime minister is expected to announce in his speech to the General Assembly fresh aid worth $60 million to support Syrian refugees, up from the earlier planned $10 million.
Syria has agreed to comply with a U.S.-Russian deal to place its chemical weapons under international supervision after U.N. inspectors concluded chemical weapons had been used in the Aug. 21 attack that killed more than 1,400 people, without laying the blame on any party.
Japan is one of the "Group of Four" states that are seeking permanent seats on the Security Council, along with Brazil, India and Germany. Abe will call for reform of the council sometimes perceived as slow in taking collective action, given that no resolution has been passed to rid Syria of chemical weapons, the officials said.
Abe is scheduled to hold bilateral talks with the leaders of France -- a supporter of the United States in possible military action against the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad over the use of chemical weapons -- and Pakistan. No date has been set for Abe to hold talks with U.S. President Barack Obama.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who will also stay in New York with Abe, is expected to meet with his counterparts from Britain, France, Germany, Australia and Egypt. He will also take up the issue of Iran's nuclear program with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
In a detour from the General Assembly, the prime minister is scheduled to explain on Wall Street the effects of his "Abenomics," a combination of fiscal stimulus, bold monetary easing, and a growth strategy, hoping to encourage more foreign investors to choose Japan as their investment destination.
Tokyo has been selected to host the 2020 Summer Olympics, an event seen as a plus for the deflation-hit economy that could help ease the negative impact of a hike in the country's sales tax next April, if Abe decides to go ahead with it as planned.
Abe is also expected to discuss security challenges facing Japan in an event hosted by the Hudson Institute, as Tokyo aims to review the long-standing U.S.-Japan security alliance by lifting its self-imposed ban on exercising the right to collective self-defense, and amending the U.S.-drafted pacifist Constitution to take on a greater security role.
Behind Abe's push lie security threats posed by China's growing maritime assertiveness and North Korea's nuclear ambitions. Roughly nine months have passed without summit talks between Japan and Asian neighbors China and South Korea due to disagreements over the sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and perceptions of wartime history.
Japan's Foreign Ministry has said Foreign Minister Kishida is not scheduled to hold talks with his counterparts from China, while it is trying to set a date for bilateral talks with South Korea on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.