Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived in Cambodia on Saturday for a two-day trip that will also take him to Laos. The visit completes a round of visits to Southeast Asian countries within a year since taking office.
With the tour, Abe will have visited all 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations since assuming power last December, marking the 40th anniversary of ties between Japan and the regional grouping.
In contrast, Abe has not yet held formal sit-down talks with the Chinese and South Korean leaders as Tokyo's ties with its neighbors have been strained by territorial disputes and the legacy of Japan's 20th century wartime aggression.
Abe is scheduled to hold talks with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in Phnom Penh later Saturday and Lao Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong in Vientiane on Sunday.
"I wish to strengthen political and security dialogue while promoting investment and expanding cooperation in the health and medical field on the economic front, aside from official development assistance," Abe told reporters before his departure from Tokyo's Haneda airport.
"I wish to strengthen relations in wide-ranging areas" with Cambodia and Laos, he added.
While in Phnom Penh and Vientiane, Abe is expected to express Japan's intention to launch talks this year on starting direct air links with Japan, the major newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun reported Saturday.
Former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi visited Cambodia and Laos in 2000 for talks with leaders there as Japan's last prime minister to have visited these countries purely for bilateral purposes.
Abe's predecessor Yoshihiko Noda visited Laos in November last year to attend the Asia-Europe Meeting which brought together top leaders from the two continents.
Abe has already visited the other ASEAN states -- Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam -- since taking office.
"We are marking the 40th anniversary of exchanges with ASEAN this year. I want to make this tour a fine ending to the round of my visits to ASEAN," Abe said.
Abe is due to host a special summit with ASEAN leaders in Tokyo from Dec 13-15 to mark the anniversary.© (c) 2013 AFP