BRISBANE, Australia: The United States, Australian and Japanese leaders on Sunday called for peaceful resolutions of maritime disputes, a day after Barack Obama warned of the dangers of outright conflict in Asia as China contests disputed territory.
In a joint statement US President Obama, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged “freedom of navigation and over-flight, and the peaceful resolution of maritime disputes in accordance with international law.”
The trio said they were committed to deepening their already strong security cooperation in the Asia-Pacific, which comes amid China’s increasingly assertive expansion in the region.
Beijing is locked in dispute with four Southeast Asian countries over lonely outcrops in the South China Sea, and with Japan over another set of islets.
The three leaders, meeting in Brisbane on the sidelines of the Group of 20 leaders summit, said their partnership aimed to ensure a peaceful, stable, and prosperous future for the Asia-Pacific.
“They noted that this partnership rests on the unshakable foundation of shared interests and values, including a commitment to democracy and open economies, the rule of law, and the peaceful resolution of disputes,” the statement said.
“The three leaders reaffirmed the global reach of their cooperation and the value of comprehensive US engagement in the Asia-Pacific region,” it added.
Obama has repeatedly denied that the United States is bent on thwarting China’s economic and political emergence, but has stressed that Beijing must be a responsible actor on the world stage.
In a speech in Brisbane on Saturday, he warned of the dangers of outright conflict in Asia and vowed that Washington would remain anchored in the region.
The US president said while there had been stunning economic progress in Asia since World War II, there were also genuine dangers, saying there were “disputes over territory —remote islands and rocky shoals—that threaten to spiral into confrontation.”
Growing ties could rankle China
The prospect of a stronger tripartite alliance, which the leaders said would include enhanced cooperation on trilateral exercises, maritime security capacity building and maritime domain awareness, may rankle Beijing.
China has repeatedly warned of what it says is the danger of Japan “remilitarizing” under Abe, and regularly lambasts Tokyo for its apparent lack of repentance for misdeeds before and during World War II.
Abe signalled his eagerness to lift defense ties with Washington and Canberra in an opinion piece for the Australian Financial Review published on Friday, calling for “a peaceful, secure and prosperous future for the Asia-Pacific region.”
For his part, Chinese President Xi Jinping told the Financial Review that Beijing was ready to increase defense cooperation with Australia, which has long profited from China’s voracious demand for its natural resources.
The three leaders met on the margins of a G20 leaders summit at which the Australian prime minister has stressed the need for an economic agenda to spur the world economy.
Before reporters were ushered out of the room, Abbott said at the beginning of the meeting: “It’s good to be here with two such economic and strategic partners.”
While dogged by disputes with Russian President Vladimir Putin over Ukraine, the G20 summit is expected to wrap up later on Sunday with calls to suppress the Islamic State group and to take collective action against the Ebola outbreak.
In their joint statement, the Australian, US and Japanese leaders said they had resolved to tackle each of these pressing issues.