Japan, ASEAN to seek “freedom of overflight” in light of China’s ADIZ


TOKYO: Leaders of Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will likely call for ensuring “freedom of overflight” in a joint statement to be issued at their summit that began in Tokyo on Friday, a diplomatic source said, in an implicit reference to China’s controversial air defense zone.

To rein in China’s growing assertiveness, Japanese diplomats have been negotiating with their ASEAN counterparts to make a sharp reference to China’s Nov. 23 declaration of a controversial air defense identification zone over the East China Sea.

The weekend summit, which kicked off with a dinner hosted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie, comes at a crucial time when attention is focused on how Japan and ASEAN will handle China’s ADIZ issue, not only for Japan’s security interest but to counter Beijing’s purported intention to establish an ADIZ in the South China Sea where China and some ASEAN member states are mired in overlapping territorial claims.

Quoting a final draft of the statement to be issued after the main summit talks Saturday, the source said Japan and ASEAN will “enhance cooperation in ensuring the freedom of overflight and civil aviation safety in accordance with” international law and standards and practices of the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Although the expression “freedom of overflight” was contained in the statement, Japan and ASEAN dropped the word “threat” in reference to China’s ADIZ, which overlaps with those of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. The earlier version of a Japan-proposed draft did not single out China but clearly had China in mind.

The earlier draft said any abuse of power in international civil aviation could pose a security “threat,” but ASEAN members, who want to maintain good ties with both East Asian powerhouses, were reluctant to be tough against China, the source said.

Beijing’s new rules require all aircraft entering the zone to file flight plans in advance and follow instructions of Chinese controllers — or face “defensive emergency measures.” China insists that the ADIZ is not a no-fly zone.

Analysts view Beijing’s attempt to “unilaterally change the status quo” by coercive measures as a way to bolster its claims over the uninhabited, Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands, the source of a bitter feud between Japan and China. Beijing claims the islands and calls them Diaoyu.

Given China’s growing maritime assertiveness, the draft also underlines the importance of promoting “freedom of navigation” and “resolution of disputes by peaceful means” in line with international law, according to the source.

With tensions rising between China and some of the 10-member ASEAN, the draft says Japan “welcomed the official consultations between ASEAN and China on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.” That action was launched in September to avoid potential conflict at sea over rival territorial claims.

The expression “freedom of overflight” was included in a separate joint statement that Japan and ASEAN will issue to map out their vision of future Japan-ASEAN ties, the source said.

Japanese officials said that with China “flooding” ASEAN nations with economic aid, Japan is keen to use the Tokyo summit commemorating 40 years of friendly and cooperative Japan-ASEAN ties as an opportunity to play catch-up to China.

Japan plans to pledge 300 billion yen in official development assistance to ASEAN for disaster prevention, among other forms of assistance, a Japanese government source said.

Bilaterally, Abe pledged aid and other forms of cooperation, including in defense, when he met separately with the leaders of the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia and Singapore on the fringes of the summit.

The summit is characterized as a “wrap-up” of Japan’s ASEAN diplomacy, with Abe having visited all 10 ASEAN nations — Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — just 11 months into office. PNA


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