TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will kick off his seven-day tour to Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea on Sunday, in hopes of securing stable supplies of energy and deepen economic and security ties with the Oceania region.
Abe will meet with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on July 8 to sign a bilateral economic partnership agreement that Tokyo and Canberra agreed to in April. The Japanese government will seek Diet approval for the pact this autumn with an eye on implementing it next spring.
Abe visited Australia about seven years ago when he took office for the first time. Since then no Japanese leaders have visited the country.
Japan and Australia will also seek an agreement on the joint development of defense equipment. Canberra will invite Abe to a National Security Committee meeting as a reciprocal exchange for Abbott's attendance in a special session convened by Japan's National Security Council in April.
Abe and Abbott will take an Australian government jet to tour mining development projects in which Japanese companies are involved in the country's western region.
In Papua New Guinea, Abe will meet with Prime Minister Peter O'Neill to secure stable supplies of liquefied natural gas, which Japan began importing from the country early this year. Abe is also expected to step up Japan's aid to the country's infrastructure projects, such as construction of power grids, water supply systems and airports, through yen loans and public-private initiatives.
In New Zealand, Abe will affirm with Prime Minister John Key that Tokyo and Wellington will closely coordinate to realize a quick conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade pact.
Abe will make top-level sales pitches during his tour to the three countries, bringing along a group of Japanese business executives from trading houses, steelmakers and other industries. More than 20 companies will join the Australian itinerary, and the trips to Papua New Guinea and New Zealand will involve 10-15 firms. He will lay the groundwork for exporting Japan's infrastructure-building expertise, a pillar of his growth strategy, and make it easy for Japanese companies to tap into business opportunities there. He hopes to reduce Japan's heavy energy reliance on the Middle East and diversify procurement sources by building close relationships with the three countries.
Abe is also scheduled to visit resource-rich Central and South American nations from late July to early August. Brazil is rich in iron ore, and Chile has vast reserves of copper. He will promote Japan's cutting-edge infrastructure-related skills and encourage Japanese companies to make inroads into these emerging markets to capitalize on their brisk growth.
Abe's visit to the Oceania region is also aimed at putting China into check. China is Australia's largest trading partner, and it is also expanding its dairy imports from New Zealand. Though Japan is the largest importer of Papua New Guinean LNG, China is also increasing its share, which is heating up the competition over energy interests in the country. Japan seeks to drive a wedge in the relationships between the Oceania countries and China, which is increasing its influence in the East and South China Sea.