Two of the poorest countries in Asia suddenly were front and center over the weekend in the growing battle for influence between Japan and China. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Laos and Cambodia, the first trip by a Japanese leader to the two Southeast Asian countries since 2000. Abe left with some modest achievements, such as agreements to help fund road, bridge, and rail infrastructure.
The point of the trip, though, was more about sending a message to Beijing. Abe took office less than a year ago and has already visited all 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. That’s a first for a Japanese leader. With Japan and China continuing to squabble over islands in the East China Sea, Abe is looking to win support among countries in Southeast Asia, even such places as Cambodia and Laos that traditionally have been close to China. Meanwhile, Abe has yet to sit down with Chinese President Xi Jinping or Premier Li Keqiang.