BANGKOK (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday agreed to strengthen economic and security ties with Thailand during a visit to Southeast Asia aimed at reinforcing alliances amid tensions over China's growing assertiveness.
Abe, making his first overseas trip since taking office last month, said on Thursday he and Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra agreed to work together to solve bilateral and regional problems, including in East Asia, where "there is a great change in the strategic environment."
Tensions between Japan and China have escalated since September, when the Japanese central government purchased a group of East China Sea islands controlled by Japan but also claimed by China.
He said the two countries will also reinforce relations between Japan and the 10-nation bloc Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN.
In comments to reporters at a joint press conference, the two leaders did not directly mention the South China Sea, where several Southeast Asian countries have territorial disputes with China.
Yingluck said they agreed to cooperate in promoting peace and stability to facilitate economic growth in Asia.
"We both agreed that any conflicts in the region should be solved through peaceful means, based on every side's benefits, including the issue of security over the territorial waters," Yingluck said.
Thailand is Abe's second stop in the three-country Southeast Asian tour, which began in Vietnam and ends in Indonesia on Saturday. Japan is Thailand's biggest trading partner and the three nations are key manufacturing bases and growing markets for Japanese companies.
South East Asia is gaining in importance as Japanese investors seek to balance risks from their investments in China, where anti-Japanese riots sparked by tensions over disputed islands in the East China Sea have hammered exports and prompted boycotts of some Japanese products.
Abe's trip is the first official visit by a Japanese prime minister to Thailand in 11 years.