Japan strengthens ties with Sri Lanka as part of plan to rein in China

May 03, 2013

By JUN TABUSHI/ Staff Writer

COLOMBO--Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso's visit to Sri Lanka yielded promises of stronger ties between the two countries, bringing Japan a step closer to its goal of building a coalition against China.

Aso, who had been eager to visit the maritime nation, met with Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Colombo on May 2, and the two agreed to enhance bilateral cooperation further.

Aso and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are currently conducting a broad range of diplomatic activities to counter China's growing influence. Aso followed his visit to Sri Lanka with a trip to India later that same day, while Abe started his trip to Russia and Middle East countries on April 28.

Japan used to be Sri Lanka's largest aid donor, but was replaced by China in 2009, stoking fear that Japanese companies would lag behind their Chinese counterparts in forays there.

Japan is also worried about China's increasing maritime military influence in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean.

"Sri Lanka is an extremely important maritime nation," said Aso during the meeting. "Japan has proposed providing training to (Sri Lanka's) coast guard officers."

When Abe first served as prime minister in 2006, Aso, who was then foreign minister, proposed making the area from Southeast Asia to central and eastern Europe an "arc of freedom and prosperity."

The strategy was intended to contain China by helping Asian countries move forward with democratization and the development of their economies.

"Relations with democratic nations that have established market economies and the rule of law are extremely important," Aso told reporters on May 2, indicating he sees the latest trip to Sri Lanka as part of the strategy.

Sino-Japanese relationships, meanwhile, have been strained since last fall over the Senkaku Islands dispute, and Japan has yet to find a path to dialogue to improve bilateral ties with Beijing.

It is unclear how the Abe administration's diplomatic strategy aimed at containing China will affect future bilateral relations.

By JUN TABUSHI/ Staff Writer
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