TOKYO — Saying that his nation will play a larger role in regional security, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan said Friday that his government will support Vietnam and other nations that have territorial disputes with China by providing patrol ships, training, and military surveillance equipment.
Abe, speaking at an international security meeting in Singapore, said he wants Japan to shed the passiveness that has marked its diplomacy after World War II and take more responsibility for maintaining regional stability. He said Japan will cooperate with the United States and other like-minded nations such as Australia and India to uphold international rule of law and freedom of navigation, and to discourage China’s increasingly assertive efforts to take control of islands and expanses of ocean that are claimed by other Asian nations, including Japan.
“Japan intends to play an even greater and more proactive role than it has until now in making peace in Asia and the world something more certain.”
Referring to the Association for Southeast Asian Nations, Abe said, “Japan will offer its utmost support for efforts by Asean member countries to ensure the security of the seas and skies and rigorously maintain freedom of navigation.”
Japan has been stepping up efforts to serve as at least a partial counterbalance to China’s rising economic and military power in the region, by building new security ties with Australia and Southeast Asia and by serving as a more fully fledged US ally. Japan has been moving slowly and carefully for years to set aside its postwar aversion to military power and play a larger security role in East Asia, a region still scarred by Japan’s brutal imperialism in the early 20th century.
South Korea and China, which are closer geographically to Japan, have criticized Abe’s policy as an attempt to revive Japanese militarism. But Abe has made building closer security ties in the region a pillar of his foreign policy.
In his speech Friday, he noted that he visited 10 Southeast Asian nations last year and is trying to build “a new special relationship” with Australia that includes joint military training and development of military equipment.