Japan’s hawkish Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, kicked off his South-east Asian trip this week, his first since taking office, in a bid to reinforce Japan’s economic presence and strengthen security ties in the region amid an increasingly aggressive China.

Abe will be traveling to Thailand on Thursday from Vietnam before leaving for Indonesia on Friday as part of his three-country tour of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations to shore up alliances at a time when tensions with China over territorial disputes has escalated.

His visit to Vietnam is aimed at promoting cooperation between the two countries on various fields such as politics, national security, economics, trade and investment. It also coincides with the opening of the Year of Vietnam-Japan Friendship to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations.

Abe will meet with Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in Bangkok to discuss a strategic alliance to boost economic, political, social and cultural ties. Abe is expected to ask Thailand to “play a constructive role in bringing about peaceful negotiations according to international laws” to the ensuing territorial dispute between ASEAN members and China. Japanese officials said Abe is also keen on strengthening economic ties through a master plan for flood prevention, according to the Wall Street Journal.

A senior official at the Japanese Embassy in Bangkok said Abe’s trip to the fast-growing region underlines Japan’s view that “relations with ASEAN are vital”.