Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance Co Ltd has entered into exclusive talks to buy a 15 percent stake in Thai Life Insurance Co for around $700 million, people familiar with the matter told Reuters, as Japanese insurers step up their presence in Southeast Asia.

Meiji Yasuda, Japan's second-largest life insurer by premium income after Nippon Life Insurance Co, beat Sumitomo Life Insurance Co Ltd to enter final negotiations, in an auction that had attracted private equity firms Carlyle Group , KKR & Co Ltd and CVC Capital Partners Ltd, the people said.

A deal is expected as early as next week, one person familiar with the matter said, adding that Sumitomo could still stage a comeback.

(Reporting by Taiga Uranaka and Denny Thomas; Additional reporting by Khettiya Jittapong; Editing by Michael Flaherty and Ryan Woo)