SINGAPORE: Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed Friday that his country would play a larger role in promoting peace in Asia, and called for the rule of law to be upheld in the region.
Laying out a vision of Tokyo as a counterweight to the growing might of China, Abe offered Japan’s help to regional partners “to ensure security of the seas and skies”.
He said Japan and the United States stood ready to bolster security cooperation with Australia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
“Japan intends to play an even greater and more proactive role than it has until now in making peace in Asia and the world something more certain,” he said in a keynote speech at an annual Asia security forum in Singapore.
Abe said Japan will provide 10 new coast guard patrol ships to Philippines, which has one of Asia’s most poorly equipped security forces.
He said three such vessels have already been provided to Indonesia and Vietnam may receive similar assistance.
Abe delivered his speech as tensions simmer over territorial disputes, involving China and some Southeast Asian states in the South China Sea as well as between Tokyo and Beijing in the East China Sea.
Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea, even waters approaching the shores of neighbouring countries, and has become more aggressive in enforcing what it says are its historical rights.
In the latest tensions, Vietnam on Thursday accused Chinese war ships of pointing their weapons at Vietnamese vessels during an escalating standoff near an oil rig in contested waters in the South China Sea.
The Philippines has also faced increasingly tense disputes with China for control of islets and reefs in the sea.
In one high-profile incident in 2012, the Philippines lost control of a rich fishing ground 220 kilometres (135 miles) off its main island to China after a standoff.
China is also in dispute with Japan over islands in the East Sea, which Tokyo calls Senkaku and Beijing refers to as Diaoyu. Tokyo has control over the outcrops.
On May 25, Japan accused China of “dangerous” manoeuvres in the area after a Chinese fighter flew within roughly 30 metres (100 feet) of a Japanese military aircraft.
“We do not welcome dangerous encounters by fighter aircraft and vessels at sea,” Abe said, reiterating a call for both countries to establish a maritime and air communication mechanism in order to prevent unexpected situations.
Abe repeatedly used the phrase “rule of law” during his speech, urging nations to respect international norms in dealing with territorial rows, avoiding coercion in enforcing claims and settling disputes by peaceful means.
“I urge all of us who live in Asia and the Pacific to each individually uphold these three principles exhaustively,” he said at the Shangri-La Dialogue, a security forum involving defence chiefs, military officials and security experts.
“Movement to consolidate changes to the status quo by aggregating one fait accompli after another can only be strongly condemned as something that contravenes the spirit of these three principles,” he said, without mentioning any country.
Abe told the forum that talks were under way in his country about Japan’s pacifist armed forces taking on a more pro-active role in security.
US defence secretary Chuck Hagel told Abe during bilateral talks on the sidelines in Singapore that he welcomed the initiative, Japan’s Jiji Press news agency reported.
Japan’s Self Defence Forces have not fired a shot in battle since a battered and broken country surrendered in 1945, accepting a US-led occupation that would last until 1952.
Its once-huge armed forces were emasculated, stripped by the foreign-imposed constitution of the right to wage war and restricted to a defensive role.
Chinese state media said Abe had “played with international law to advance his thinly-veiled nationalist goals” in the address.
Speaking ahead of Abe on the sidelines of the Singapore meeting, Fu Ying, the head of the foreign affairs committee of China’s parliament, said the Japanese leader did not appear “to show any interest in addressing” their bilateral dispute.
Fu said Abe was trying to use the dispute as an excuse to “amend the security policy of Japan”, adding that this is “what is worrying to the region, and for China”.