Abe departed on Thursday and will make a brief visit to the Middle East state of Oman before heading to the Ivory Coast, Mozambique and Ethiopia.

He has traveled more widely than his immediate predecessors in a bid to expand Japan's diplomatic reach and help Japanese companies win business overseas.

The unofficial backdrop to his whirlwind travel is China's rise and the relative decline of a once ascendant Japan during two decades of economic stagnation. Japan is a major aid donor to Africa, but China's investment and trade has powered Africa's economic growth in the past decade.

Japan has pledged USD 14 billion in aid over the next five years and billions more in private investment.

Africa's growth has raised hopes that one of the world's last major untapped markets is starting to reach its potential. Japanese officials paint the Ivory Coast as the gateway to a West African market of 300 million people.

Japanese business executives will accompany Abe in Africa. The biggest delegation of 29 companies is going to Mozambique, a resource-rich country where Japanese companies are investing in coal and natural gas development.

In Ethiopia, Abe will deliver a major speech on Africa policy at the new headquarters of the African Union, a USD 200 million structure paid for by China.

(Agencies)

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