Abe seeks to improve ties with China, S. Korea at regional summits

OSAKA, (PNA/Kyodo) — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe showed his intention Sunday to seek to improve Japan’s soured relations with China and South Korea as he began a trip to Southeast Asia, where he will attend a series of meetings of Asia-Pacific leaders.

Abe also told reporters before his departure that he will encourage other leaders to make final efforts toward concluding within the year a trans-Pacific free trade agreement, despite the absence of U.S. President Barack Obama, who had canceled the trip because of the government shutdown in Washington.

“I want to exchange views” with South Korean President Park Geun Hye and Chinese President Xi Jinping “if circumstances permit,” Abe said at Kansai International Airport before leaving for Bali, Indonesia, where the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum is scheduled on Monday and Tuesday.

He also said, “If Japan maintains stable friendly ties with China and South Korea, then it will benefit the region as a whole very much,” and that he will keep sending a message to the neighbors that “doors for dialogue are open.”

There is no publicized schedule, though, for Abe to meet with the Chinese and South Korean presidents in Bali and also in Brunei, which Abe will later visit for other meetings. Some Japanese officials say Japan’s efforts to that end have so far failed to bear fruit.

Japan’s relations with China and South Korea have been strained for prolonged disputes over territory and differing perceptions of history, most notably Japan’s wartime aggression in the area.

Beijing and Seoul have also criticized the hawkishness of Abe, who took office last December, on foreign and defense policies.

Last month, Abe held a brief conversation with Xi and Park, respectively, when the three attended the Group of 20 major economies’ summit in Russia. But that apparently did not break the ice.

In Bali, Abe will also join the meeting of leaders from part of the APEC countries trying to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade accord.

He said at the airport that he wants to “make a proactive contribution so that (TPP) negotiations progress in a favorable direction for their year-end conclusion,” while adding, “It’s very regrettable” that Obama, who had been expected to chair the TPP summit, canceled his trip.

The United State and Japan are the two largest economies among the 12 countries in TPP negotiations, also involving Australia, Singapore and Mexico.

Abe will hold bilateral talks with other leaders, including Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who chairs this year’s summit of the 21-member APEC, and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Abe and Putin are likely to seek progress on the bilateral territorial dispute that has prevented Japan and Russia from signing a peace treaty after World War II. The countries are continuing working-level talks to solve the issue.

The prime minister will also deliver a speech at a conference on the Indonesian resort island about his “Abenomics” policies to beat chronic deflation in the Japanese economy as well as his recent decision to raise the country’s sales tax in April to improve its fiscal health,

In Brunei, he will attend meetings hosted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on Wednesday and Thursday along with other dialogue partners for ASEAN, including China, India and South Korea.

He will hold bilateral talks with Brunei, Australia and New Zealand on the margins of the regional summits and is scheduled to return home Thursday night.