BEIJING, Nov. 18 (UPI) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visits to ASEAN countries were meant to counter China's rising presence in the region, Chinese experts say.
The official China Daily Monday quoted them as saying Abe's visits were meant to shore up Tokyo's ties within the region to counter China's growing influence.
Abe, seen as a right-wing hawk by some sections of the Chinese media, traveled to Laos and Cambodia this past weekend, thus completing visits to all 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations since assuming office last December. The visits came amid Japan's rising tensions with China stemming from various issues, including a bitter territorial dispute over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which are also claimed by Beijing.
China's growing military power and its aggressive claims in the South China Sea also have raised concerns in the some of the ASEAN countries about maritime security.
Both in Laos and Cambodia, Abe discussed such security issues.
China Daily said while Abe is also due to host a special summit with ASEAN leaders in Tokyo next month, he has not yet held formal talks with leaders of China and South Korea "with whom ties have been stalled by the hawkish Japanese leader's hard-line policy on territorial disputes and his unapologetic attitude toward Japan's 20th-century wartime atrocities in the two countries."
Abe aims to isolate China, especially by playing up the growing maritime issue, Lu Yaodong at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences told the newspaper.
Other analysts said among the ASEAN nations, Abe wants to consolidate Japan's closer relations with Indonesia and the Philippines, and with visits to Laos and Cambodia, he also wants to strengthen ties with traditional friends of China.
Countries that have disputes with China over the South China Sea include Brunei, the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.
Japan's focus on the South China Sea issue is part of Washington's strategy in the Asia-Pacific, and that Japan believes the Philippines may seek Japan's military aid when a conflict takes place with China, said Ma Junwei of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.
But Wu Shicun at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies said most of the Southeast Asian nations won't take sides as the "regional players always act out of their own national interests and seek balance among powers, posing no offense to any side."