Asean addresses sea dispute

December 14, 2013 - 5:41:42 am

Philippine President Benigno Aquino (L) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attend a joint news conference at the prime minister’s official residence in Tokyo yesterday.

TOKYO:  Asian nations must ensure that territorial disputes do not erupt into conflict, leaders said yesterday, with Japan and the Philippines reaffirming their commitment to freedom of flight as concerns grow over China’s new air defence zone.

Beijing’s growing military strength has sparked concern in Asia, and tension has spiked in the last month after China announced the air defence zone including islands in the East China Sea also claimed by Japan.

The air defence identification zone has triggered protests from the United States and its close allies, Japan and South Korea

China is also locked in territorial rows with other Asian nations, including the Philippines, over wide swathes of the South China Sea and has said it might set up a similar zone there.

“We reiterated our commitment to uphold the rule of law, promote the peaceful settlement of disputes, and to assure freedom of flight in international air space,” Philippine President Benigno Aquino told reporters in Tokyo after meeting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Aquino stopped short of mentioning China in the media appearance with Abe, who has made stronger ties with the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations a priority, visiting all of them during his first year in office.

The charm offensive, which has been underlined by hefty Japanese aid over the years and rising private investment, culminates in a three-day Tokyo gathering that began yesterday and is billed officially as celebrating 40 years of diplomatic ties. 

The final statement from the summit, due to be released today, is likely to state its support for freedom of the air and the seas - but stop short of mentioning China.

“In particular, it must be said that good relations between Japan and China are critical to the future of our region,” said Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in a speech.



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