Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe left Wednesday for a tour of Southeast Asia and Oceania to attend annual regional summits and hold bilateral talks with world leaders on the sidelines.
During his five-day trip, Abe plans to discuss regional challenges including the denuclearization of North Korea and the importance of free trade amid the rise of protectionism under U.S. President Donald Trump.
Abe is scheduled to take part in a meeting in Singapore later Wednesday involving the leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, with this year marking the 45th anniversary of Japan-ASEAN friendship and cooperation.
The Japanese prime minister is then expected to join the summit of the leaders of the 16 member countries of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. The trade deal is aimed at creating one of the world's largest free trade blocs, although the Asia-Pacific member nations are unlikely to achieve their target of a substantive deal by the end of the year.
Abe will hold bilateral talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the meetings. A long-standing territorial row over a group of islands off Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido is expected to be high on the agenda if the meeting takes place.
"I am determined to make progress in our negotiations, aiming to address the issue of signing a peace treaty (with Russia) by working with President Putin," Abe told reporters before departure.
The group of islets is called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia. The Soviet Union occupied them at the end of World War II and the territorial row has prevented Tokyo and Moscow from concluding a postwar peace treaty.
On Thursday, Abe is expected to take part in a summit with the leaders of the ASEAN countries and China and South Korea, as well as the East Asia Summit that brings together the 10 ASEAN members with other regional powers such as Russia and the United States.
The Japanese leader is also expected to meet separately with Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
Moving to Darwin, Australia, on Friday, Abe is likely to hold his first summit with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who took office in August.
He plans to visit a war memorial site in the northern Australian city that was bombed by the Japanese military during World War II.
On Saturday, Abe will fly to Papua New Guinea to attend the two-day Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit that will bring together 21 member economies, with Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence expected to take part.