Senior defense officials from Japan and ASEAN countries met Tuesday in Okinawa Prefecture to discuss the use of Japan's defense equipment in disaster relief and anti-terrorism efforts, as Tokyo aims to set new rules on arms exports.
The officials are expected to exchange views on various topics ranging from post-disaster technical support in infrastructure building to the introduction of Japanese defense equipment such as infrared radars and unmanned robots to clear explosives.
"We hope to deepen and enhance cooperation, as ASEAN countries are Japan's partners that share basic values and strategic interests," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in a message delivered to the meeting in Ginowan.
The meeting, the first in Okinawa, is chaired by Japan's Administrative Vice Minister of Defense Masanori Nishi, and is seen as strategically important in view of China's assertive activities both at sea and in the airspace.
As part of Abe's envisaged reworking of defense policy to bolster the capabilities of the Self-Defense Forces and increase its presence abroad, the government is expected to set new rules on arms exports to ease the transfer of defense equipment to other countries.
The Defense Ministry plans to showcase defense equipment at an Air Self-Defense Force base in Naha, the Okinawa capital, on Wednesday to explain how Japan conducts surveillance and warning activities in the East China Sea.
China appears to be at the forefront of Abe's defense vision, bolstering the case for Japan to strengthen ties with ASEAN. Tokyo and Beijing remain at odds over the sovereignty of the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, or Diaoyu in Chinese, with patrol ships and airplanes shadowing each other.
Some ASEAN member states, namely Vietnam and the Philippines, are tackling similar maritime challenges, because they have been embroiled in territorial disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations involves Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Japan and ASEAN held the summit meeting in December in Tokyo to commemorate the 40th anniversary of friendship.