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Asean states differ over China

Publication Date : 16-12-2013


At a special summit meeting between Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on Saturday, the participants confirmed security cooperation to ensure freedom of overflight amid differing relations with China among member countries.

In the area of economy, Japan proposed 2 trillion yen (US$19 billion) in official development assistance to Asean over the next five years and stronger cooperation between Japan and Asean, which Abe called “the world’s growth center filled with energy”.

After becoming prime minister in December last year, Abe chose Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia as the destinations of his first official overseas visits. Within a year, he visited all 10 Asean member countries. The special summit meeting served to cap off Abe’s Asean diplomacy in the first year of his second premiership.

“Japan and Asean agreed to strengthen cooperation to secure freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight and civil aviation safety,” Abe said at a press conference after the meeting.

On Japan’s response to China’s declaration of the air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea, which includes the airspace over Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, Abe said, “We will continue following the existing rules,” indicating his continued request for Japanese airlines not to submit their flight plans to China.

The most appropriate wording to be used in the text in light of China’s ADIZ declaration was the focal point of contention in the joint statement of the meeting.

Abe aimed to use the meeting to strengthen ties with the Philippines and Vietnam, which are at odds with China in territorial disputes over the South China Sea, and to draw those countries over to Japan’s side. By doing so, the prime minister intended to increase pressure on China. Since there were pro-China countries as well, the joint statement avoided direct criticism of China by not naming the country in the text and cited “freedom of overflight” to indicate joint steps by the countries concerned.

Still, the phrase was no more than an expression of the principle and did not oblige the countries to act in any way.

As for the meeting of defense ministers of Japan and Asean nations, which Japan proposed as a highlight in the area of security cooperation, the expressions used in the statement went no further than “we noted” Japan’s offer to host the informal meeting. This was because of reservations on the Asean side toward the idea, which it believed could upset China.


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