Japan-Asean Summit Statement to Call for Free Airspace Over High Seas

By Kiyoshi Takenaka 6 December 2013

TOKYO — Japan and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations are set to call for freedom of airspace over the high seas in a communique at next week’s Tokyo summit, a move directed at China’s aviation defense zone, Kyodo news agency said.

A draft of the joint statement also expresses the resolve of Japan and Asean to bolster cooperation in maritime security, Kyodo said on Friday.

“The Air Defense Identification Zone is already an international issue. The meeting would lack edge if a strong message could not be issued [on the matter],” Kyodo quoted an unnamed Japanese diplomatic source as saying.

Japan and four members of Asean—Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia—all have territorial disputes with China in either the East or South China Seas.

The Tokyo summit to mark the 40th anniversary of Japan’s ties with Asean comes after China last month declared an air defense identification zone in an area that includes islands at the heart of a territorial dispute with Japan, triggering protests from Tokyo, as well as Washington and Seoul.

In announcing the new air defense zone, China warned it would take “defensive emergency measures” against aircraft that failed to identify themselves properly in the airspace, raising regional tension.

Kyodo said a draft of the summit’s statement stresses the importance of the freedom of aviation over the high seas and pledges Japan and Asean to contribute to the peaceful development of international aviation order. The three-day Tokyo summit is scheduled to start on Dec. 13.

Japan’s ties with China deteriorated sharply in September 2012 when it purchased from a private owner three disputed islands in the East China Sea, called the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

China claims almost the entire oil- and gas-rich South China Sea, overlapping with claims from Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Vietnam. The last four are members of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who returned to power last December for a rare second term, promising to stand tough in the island dispute, visited all 10 Asean nations over the past year, but has not held an official summit meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.