Abe, who became prime minister after his Liberal Democratic Party won a landslide victory in Japan's parliamentary elections last month, chose Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia for his first foreign trip after his U.S. visit was put off because of President Barack Obama's busy schedule.
Abe, who has already earned Chinese criticism for his tough stand on the Senkaku Islands dispute with Beijing, came under more attack from the official Chinese media over his Asian journey, which comes when countries including Vietnam are growing increasingly concerned about China's aggressive claims in the South China Sea region despite overlapping claims from some of them. Japan-China dispute over the Senkakus also is worsening.
Prior to starting his trip, Abe was quoted as saying the strategic environment of the Asia-Pacific region is undergoing a "major change."
Abe met with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung Wednesday in Hanoi, where China Daily said Abe expressed concern about China's growing maritime presence.
"Abe's trip is political posturing and will have few, if any, benefits. Hanoi will surely consider ties with Beijing when dealing with Tokyo, and Hanoi will not miss the big picture simply because of the South China Sea issue,'' Jia Duqiang, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told China Daily.
The newspaper said the main purpose of Abe's Asia trip reportedly is to strengthen maritime cooperation with other countries against China.
Jia said China should be confident of its position and reach out to its neighbors to counter Abe's diplomatic blitz.
Another analyst, Yang Bojiang, a Japanese studies specialist, told China Daily that Japan is eager to restore its influence in the region.
"Southeast Asia is like a backyard for Japan, and the region also hosts key shipping routes," Yong said.
Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun had earlier reported that Abe's visit to the three countries is designed to draw on their potential for growth to revitalize Japan's economy and also to check China's moves to expand its power in Asia.
Yomiuri, quoting sources, said the Abe government also is considering helping Southeast Asian countries establish or improve their social infrastructure and industrial complexes by providing official development assistance.
Separately, China's official Xinhua News Agency in a commentary said days before leaving on his trip, Abe "ratcheted up rhetoric toward China that badly damaged the mutual trust between the two neighbors."
The article cited Abe's asserting Japan's sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands and that the issue was "not negotiable."
"Tokyo's irrational provocations would undoubtedly incur a tough response from Beijing, further damaging the environment of economic cooperation as well as regional stability," the Xinhua piece said.
However, it also said other calls coming from Japan for a pragmatic approach to the island issue bring new hope for the neighbors to rebuild confidence.
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