ANALYSIS: Eyeing China, Aso Seeks Greater Influence In Asia

Friday, May 22, 2009

TOKYO (Nikkei)--Prime Minister Taro Aso, in outlining a long-term vision for Asia on Thursday, appeared eager to elevate Japan's status in the region and position his country as a leader for regional economic development.

His speech at the International Conference on the Future of Asia signaled a high awareness of China's growing influence in East Asia, which Japan hopes to tap for its economic recovery.

Aso's plan for a meeting with the leaders of the five Mekong area nations -- Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar and Thailand -- is a bid to strengthen Japan's political dialogue with the nations at the heart of development in East Asia. Japan wants to throw its money and technology behind lagging infrastructure projects there.

The establishment of a transportation network in the Mekong area promises to serve as an economic catalyst for the broader region, and China, which sits to the north, is keen to provide support. Aso aims to counter China by parlaying the summit into greater visibility for Japan in Southeast Asia.

China also figures in Japan's pursuit of closer economic cooperation with Russia. Russia is starting to pay more attention to Asia as a market for its abundant natural resources. Tokyo's recent advances toward Moscow can be seen as an attempt to fend off Beijing.

(The Nikkei May 22 morning edition)

Titles of speakers, names of companies, etc., were correct as of the time when the forum was held.