TOKYO - Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida plans to visit the Philippines in the first half of this month on his first trip abroad as foreign minister, possibly from Wednesday, government sources said.
The trip is aimed at strengthening Japan's ties with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations at a time when China is being increasingly assertive in making territorial and other claims in not only the East China Sea but also the South China Sea.
China is pushing its claims to the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which it calls the Diaoyu, and has also been involved in territorial disputes in the South China Sea with the Philippines and Vietnam, among other ASEAN members.
Kishida's first trip as foreign minister to the Philippines has been arranged as part of new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's efforts to beef up Japan's diplomacy.
In the Philippines, Kishida is expected to discuss bilateral cooperation in maritime security, including possible supply of coast guard vessels to the Southeast Asian country, with his counterpart Alberto del Rosario, according to the sources.
The year 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the beginning of exchanges between Japan and ASEAN, with a special summit of the heads of the 10 ASEAN members being planned in Japan in December for the first time in a decade.
Kishida is expected to smooth the way for the regional gathering and strengthen a network of countries that call for the observance of international rules, including free passage in sea lanes.
The Abe government, which was launched in late December after a landslide electoral victory by the Liberal Democratic Party, is also eager to forge close ties with such countries as India and Australia.
One of the Abe government's strategies, while embracing Japan's alliance with the United States as the cornerstone of its foreign policy, is to improve ties with China by strengthening cooperation with these countries in such areas as security, the economy and energy.
ASEAN consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.