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June 25, 2017

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Japan pleads to global elite for support in Diaoyu dispute with China

DAVOS, Switzerland -- Japan took its campaign for international support in a potentially explosive territorial dispute with China to Davos on Wednesday.

On the opening day of the annual World Economic Forum, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was due to deliver the keynote address to 2,500 business and political leaders.

The address, one of the most high-profile by a Japanese leader in recent decades, has been billed by diplomats as a key staging post in Abe's campaign to drum up backing for Tokyo's stance on what it sees as bullying by its superpower neighbor over disputed islands in the East China Sea.

Much of Abe's landmark speech is expected to be taken up by a review of the progress of "Abenomics," the premier's ambitious bid to end two decades of deflation through a combination of monetary stimulus, fiscal consolidation and — still to be implemented — structural reforms.

But sources said Abe would also refer to the current tensions with Beijing over the sovereignty of the uninhabited but potentially mineral-rich islands which Japan calls Senkaku and China calls the Diaoyus.

The dispute is being played out against a backdrop of Japanese fears that China is seeking to exert control over lifeline shipping lanes around its vast coastline and that the United States' commitment to guaranteeing Japanese security is waning.

Tensions over the islands have come perilously close to boiling over into armed clashes on several occasions over the last couple of years and were reignited last month when Abe visited the Yasukuni shrine, which honors Japan's war dead, including convicted war criminals.

China and South Korea see the shrine as a symbol of Tokyo's lack of repentance for the horrors of last century and say it downplays the country's brutal past.

The spat between the East Asian neighbors has since gone global, with Japanese and Chinese envoys in London indulging in a Harry Potter-themed row in the letters pages of the British newspapers and a top Chinese diplomat in Africa branding Abe a "troublemaker" following his recent influence-building tour of the region.

Beijing will have the opportunity to hit back on Friday when Foreign Minister Wang Yi is due to address the forum on the "global dimensions of China's development."

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