Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's recent swing through three of the largest members of Asean has signalled a fluid start to the new year in East Asia's high-stakes regional mix.
Mr Abe hopes that his second time at the top will be the charm that moves Japan forward and out of its slump of more than two decades. At issue is whether the new Japanese premier's early momentum will last and jolt Japan into action and activity, or whether it will end up being yet another false dawn in Tokyo's efforts to revitalise itself.
Mr Abe's choice of destinations was instructive. He meant to visit Washington as a first preference but United States President Barack Obama's second inauguration complicated the scheduling. Visiting his newly elected counterpart in Seoul, Park Geun-hye, made sense in view of the bilateral controversy over South Korea's Dokdo islands, which Japan claims and calls Takeshima.
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