TOKYO: Japan and Southeast Asian countries agreed on Saturday to ensure freedom of movement in the skies, in the first major gathering of the continent’s leaders since China declared a controversial air defense zone.
At a summit between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), they “agreed to enhance cooperation in ensuring freedom of overflight and civil aviation safety.”
The statement will be seen as a mild rap across the knuckles for Beijing, which is embroiled in sovereignty spats with Tokyo and four members of Asean.
The communique came at the end of a special summit to mark the 40 years of ties between Japan and the bloc, during which Abe pledged $20 billion in aid and loans to the region over five years.
The meeting was the first significant gathering of Asian leaders since China announced an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea last month, including the airspace above the Tokyo-administered Senkaku Islands, which Beijing claims as the Diaoyus.
At the time, Beijing said all aircraft entering the zone have to submit flight plans and obey orders issued by Chinese authorities, in an announcement that was widely denounced as inflammatory.
Japan’s announcement of a $20-billion aid for Asean crowns a year of courting by Abe, who has visited all 10 countries in the grouping at least once since he came to power last year, always with one eye on wresting back influence in the region from China.
“Together with Asean, I want to build the future of Asia where laws, rather than power, rule, and people who worked hard will be rewarded—which would lead to a prosperous society with mutual respect.”
That apparently was an oblique reference to his country’s fractious spat over the sovereignty of a small chain of islands in the East China Sea, where Japan is keen to garner support for its view that Beijing’s behavior is aggressive and coercive.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd also on Saturday aired concern over China’s ADIZ, especially since Beijing has claimed that such zones may be replicated.
In his statement at the session of the Asean-Japan Commemorative Summit, the President called for a peaceful and rules-based approach to resolving territorial disputes including those with China.
“The Philippines’ call for peace and stability in our region is amplified by recent developments in the East China Sea, on establishment of an Air Defense Identification Zone which raises concerns over international civil aviation, safety and security,” he said.
“We all should view with greater concern the recent pronouncements of Chinese officials that China will establish other ADIZs in due course,” he also said.
President Aquino said the Philippines is pursuing a two-track approach to disputes in the sea “known-by-many-names.”
“To resolve disputes, we are pursuing arbitration. The Philippines views arbitration as an internationally recognized forum for the peaceful settlement of disputes. In addition to clarifying entitlements and the corresponding obligations, arbitration promotes the rule of law and redounds to the benefit of all parties,” he said.
He also said that as Japan and Asean move to deepen their partnership, they must keep in mind they can maximize opportunities for growth but only in a “wider regional international community in which all nations adhere to the rule of law and work to promote peace and stability.”
“It is therefore incumbent upon all of us to remain committed to the principles of international law and to continue to engage each other in a positive and productive manner as we tread the straight path to mutual prosperity and advancement in the Asia Pacific,” he said.
AFP and PNA