In a success in his Southeast Asian diplomacy, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe saw a summit meeting of Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations agree to jointly urge China to abide by international rules.
At a special summit meeting among Japan and 10 ASEAN nations held in Tokyo, the leaders adopted a joint statement saying it is important to ensure the safety of seas and the freedom of navigation as well as to resolve conflicts in accordance with the “universally recognized principles of international laws.”
The statement clearly stated the nations will cooperate to ensure the “freedom of overflight” and “civil aviation safety” in air zones over the high seas — with China's air defense identification zone in mind, although it did not specifically refer to China.
Some Southeast Asian nations, such as Cambodia and Laos, have close ties with China. Nonetheless, it was significant that Japan and the ASEAN member nations issued the joint statement with the aim of holding China in check, which has heightened tensions not only on the seas but also in the air.
Without consulting with its neighbors, China unilaterally set its ADIZ over the East China Sea and threatened to adopt “emergency defensive measures” by the Chinese military against any aircraft that refuses to obey its instructions. It also hinted at setting another ADIZ over the South China Sea.
“Without free ocean and air [navigation], we can't expect to have active trade,” Abe stressed at a press conference.
During his separate meetings with the ASEAN leaders and during the summit sessions, Abe said Japan will contribute to regional stability based on “proactive pacifism” and proposed holding a meeting of defense ministers from Japan and the ASEAN members.
It is imperative for Japan to deepen cooperative security ties with the ASEAN countries to deal with China and North Korea.
ASEAN and China are considering setting legally binding codes of conduct in the South China Sea, where they have prolonged territorial disputes, but Beijing is reluctant to accept such codes. Japan should cooperate with the United States in backing ASEAN efforts to conclude an early agreement on codes of conduct with China.
During the special summit meeting, participants also made progress in the area of economic cooperation. They broadly agreed in the two fields of investment and service in negotiations for a Japan-ASEAN economic partnership agreement.
Abe expressed Japan's support for an economic community ASEAN aims to create by the end of 2015 and pledged to actively provide official development assistance to the body.
Absorbing the vigor of rapidly growing Southeast Asia will provide a springboard for Japan's economic growth.
The leaders also formulated a mid- and long-term plan for cooperation not only in political and economic fields but also in the area of antidisaster measures. They also plan to have more active exchanges in culture, arts, tourism and sports.
Japan and ASEAN have just observed the 40th anniversary of their friendship this year. It is hoped that they will strengthen their strategic ties even further.