TOKYO, May 13 (Xinhua) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and visiting Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei met here on Monday and discussed strengthening bilateral ties, with a strong emphasis on energy security, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.
The talks came ahead of defense ministerial meetings schedule for June and to be held in Brunei, which is currently serving as the rotating presidency of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The meetings will also comprise military officials from eight other countries, including Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the United States.
While ministry officials stated that Japan's maritime security issues were discussed Monday, Abe was jointly concerned about deepening his country's ties with Brunei on an energy level, as the resource-poor nation is heavily reliant on countries for its imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG).
Tokyo Gas Co. Ltd., Japan's largest energy provider alone imports more than 11 million tons of LNG per year, based on long- term contracts from energy export countries and is increasingly looking overseas to boost procurement.
The energy company has projects underway including the Ichthys LNG Project, which is under development offshore from Western Australia, projects in the East and West Coasts of North America and general LNG projects in a number of ASEAN nations, such as Vietnam, and other Southeast Asian countries, aimed at diversifying holdings and gaining expertise in shale gas development.
In the wake of the changing energy environment here, as the majority of nuclear power stations remain offline in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, Japan is increasingly looking to expand its up and downstream overseas LNG value chains, as a means to meet the nation's burgeoning fossil-fuel-based energy demands.
Reciprocally, Japan offered Brunei access to Japan's new, renewable energy knowhow and infrastructure capabilities, spanning solar, geothermal, hydro and wind power and other energy-saving innovations, ministry officials said Monday.
Abe's talks with Sultan Hassanal come at a time when Tokyo is concerned that demand for natural gas and oil may outstrip supply and although the softening of the yen has eased some of the economic concerns of the heavy import burden the nation has had to deal with since the Fukushima crisis, tie-ups with energy-rich nations like Brunei are crucial for Japan.
To this end, Abe remarked that he was grateful to Brunei for providing an essential stable supply of LNG to Japan and the two leaders pledged to deepen bilateral ties going forward and to work closely on disaster prevention and maritime issues, the foreign ministry said of Monday's meeting.
The Japanese leader also thanked Brunei for it backing Japan in their bid to join talks to participate in the U.S.-led Trans- Pacific Partnership trade pact, with the sultan remarking that Japan's involvement would help punctuate the economic importance of the multilateral free trade paradigm.
Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah's visit to Japan began on May 12 and will conclude on May 17. He is scheduled to have an audience with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko during his stay, according to government sources.