TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to visit Australia and New Zealand in July in hopes of strengthening Japan's security ties with the two countries in the face of China's growing military clout in the Pacific region, including the East China Sea.
Abe would be the first Japanese Prime Minister to visit Australia since 2007, during his first stint in office. Abe is also likely to give a speech before the Australian Parliament.
Abe, who met in Tokyo with his Australian counterpart, Tony Abbott, in April, is scheduled to sign an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with Canberra during the July visit. The two countries are deepening their technical cooperation in defense and have reached a broad agreement on economic matters. The EPA is expected to take effect in 2015.
Abe is also considering attending a summit meeting of the Pacific Island Forum (PIF) from July 29 to Aug 1 in Palau. The PIF is a regional cooperation body comprising 16 independent and self-governing states in South Pacific, including Tonga and Palau. Tokyo has previously sent officials below the ministerial level to the meetings.
China has been increasing its economic assistance to South Pacific nations through the China-Pacific Island Countries Economic Development and Cooperation Forum, which it leads. Beijing unilaterally declared an air-defense identification zone in the East China Sea last November. Abe hopes to keep China's regional ambitions in check by offering economic support, such as official development assistance, at the PIF meeting.