KUALA LUMPUR: Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is set to meet his Asean counterparts for the first time since becoming Prime Minister a month ago when he attends the two-day Asean-Japan Commemorative Summit in Tokyo on Thursday.
This will be Abdullah's first official appearance abroad as Prime Minister since taking over from Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad on Oct 31.
Abdullah is also expected to hold bilateral meetings with the Asean leaders on the sidelines of the summit, where he is likely to touch base with them.
He is expected to hold talks with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Philippine president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
“Although Abdullah has to make the traditional courtesy visits to the Asean neighbours as the new premier, his schedule for next year is packed with domestic concerns,'' sources said.
Topping the list would be the general election, speculated to be held in March or April, which would be the priority of the Prime Minister.
Abdullah cancelled his planned trip to Abuja, the Nigerian capital where the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting is being held.
Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar, International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz and senior government officials will accompany him to Tokyo.
The Asean-Japan Commemorative Summit, at the Geihinkan State Guest House, marks the 30th anniversary of Asean-Japan relations and is the first summit with a dialogue partner held outside the Asean region.
According to Wisma Putra, the summit, to be co-chaired by Koizumi and Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, would take stock of 30 years of Asean-Japan relations as well as exchange views on strengthening and deepening their relations.
“It will be a historic event as the summit will celebrate 30 years of Asean-Japan relations. For the first time, all Asean leaders will come together outside the Asean region,'' the sources added.
A key agenda at the summit would be a comprehensive economic partnership involving Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand.
Last month, Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hatsuhisa Takashima said his country aimed to start trade talks with the three countries at the Tokyo summit.
The talks on economic partnership agreements would follow, going beyond free trade pacts to include investment and other items, to add to Tokyo's existing one with Singapore. Japan has been Asean's top trading partner for many years.
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