Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei at a meeting on May 13 to cooperate in countering China's growing maritime ambitions.
Abe is keen to enlist the support of Brunei because the country is serving the key post of chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for 2013.
During the summit at the prime minister's office in Tokyo, the two leaders agreed they should work together to ensure success of this year's ASEAN-related events, which will be attended by both Japan and China.
Abe and and the sultan also exchanged opinions on the standoff between Tokyo and Beijing over sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and similar feuds between China and some ASEAN member countries with regard to territory in the South China Sea.
"Japan will play an active role in the peace and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region," Abe told the sultan, adding that he hopes to strengthen ties on the basis of the "five principles of Japan's ASEAN diplomacy," which Abe released during his visit to Indonesia in January.
The five principles include a provision on "protecting the free and open seas as common goods, which are governed by laws and rules and not by might."
Abe's remark reconfirms his eagerness to hold China in check by sharing those principles with ASEAN nations.
Japan plans to focus on winning over Brunei, the ASEAN chair, because some ASEAN member countries have close ties with China for historical and economic reasons. For example, last year's ASEAN-related events were plagued by rocky developments, because Cambodia, Brunei's predecessor as chair, presided over the meetings from a pro-China position.
Both Japan and China are members of a number of ASEAN-related events that are coming up, including the ASEAN Regional Forum that is expected to be held in June. Ahead of those meetings, Tokyo is engaged in a heated struggle with Beijing to ensure Brunei's "fair chairmanship," a senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official said.
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