Japan PM starts Southeast Asia visit with Ukraine, China in focus

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Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida kicked off his Southeast Asia tour on Friday, meeting his Indonesian counterpart to discuss regional responses to the Ukraine crisis as well as counter China’s growing assertiveness in the region.

As Asia’s sole member of the Group of Seven (G7), Japan hopes to hold talks on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and consolidate responses in Southeast Asia, where only one nation, Singapore, has joined sanctions against Russia, officials say.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, or Jokowi, said he had stressed as this year’s president of the Group of 20 (G20) that the war in Ukraine must stop. He earlier said he had invited the leaders of both Ukraine and Russia to the main G20 summit in November despite pressure from some Western countries to exclude the latter.

After a tree-planting ceremony at the presidential palace on the outskirts of Jakarta, Kishida and Jokowi also discussed a range of issues including China’s presence in the region and Japanese investment in Indonesia.

“I expressed my strong opposition to a unilateral change of the status quo by force in the East China Sea and the South China Sea,” Kishida said, referring to long-running maritime disputes in the strategic waterways.

Southeast Asian nations, keen not to lose access to China’s economy, have looked to steer clear of a confrontation between the United States, a key ally of Japan, and Beijing.

Japan will next month host U.S. President Joe Biden and the leaders of Australia and India for so-called “Quad” talks on regional security.

Jokowi said he hoped to have partnerships between their countries in renewable energy, and for Japanese firms to be involved in developing infrastructure in Indonesia’s planned new capital. Japan is already heavily involved in developing Jakarta’s subway system and a $4.3 billion rail link across the island of Java.

Kishida is due to visit Vietnam next, followed by Thailand, host of the Asia-Pacific Economic Forum (APEC) in 2022, before proceeding to Europe.