Japan’s Abe Angers China With Criticism of Air Zone at Summit

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sparked an angry response from China by calling its establishment of an air defense identification zone unjust at a regional summit, and urging its revocation.

China’s move last month “unjustly infringes on freedom of flight over the high seas,” Abe said at a press conference yesterday following a Tokyo summit with the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Japan is urging China to revoke all measures that infringe on this principle, he said. Abe made similar comments in bilateral meetings with leaders from the countries represented at the summit, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroshige Seko told reporters.

China is “strongly dissatisfied” over the comments, Hong Lei, a spokesman for the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on the ministry’s website late yesterday. Hong expressed in the statement China’s “strong anger” over Abe’s “malicious slander” against China in an international arena.

China is embroiled in territorial disputes with Japan over uninhabited islets in the East China Sea, and with Asean members Vietnam and the Philippines over areas of the South China Sea. The summit commemorating 40 years of Japan-Asean ties came as the U.S. Navy said one of its ships had to change course to avoid a collision with a Chinese warship in the South China Sea on Dec. 5, underscoring regional tensions.

China Chorus

Abe earlier told reporters, in a statement given alongside Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei, that leaders at the summit had agreed there should be no attempt to change the status quo in the South China Sea by force and also agreed on the importance of freedom of aviation over international waters.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino told reporters after the summit Asean and Japan could form a “chorus” against China’s actions, according to a transcript of his remarks released by his office in Manila. He said China may decide to draw up rules even in areas far from its territories if left unchecked.

Abe, who unveiled at the summit plans for more than $19 billion in aid to Asean over five years, met with a mixed response to his policy of boosting Japan’s regional defense role under the slogan “active contributions to peace.” A joint statement issued by Japan and Asean said that Abe had explained the concept, without giving it a full endorsement.

Japan’s Role

The Asean leaders said in the document they “looked forward to Japan’s efforts in contributing constructively to peace, stability and development in the region.” They did not respond in the statement to Abe’s offer to host a meeting of Japanese and Asean defense-related ministers on disaster relief.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said in a speech to Japanese lawmakers ahead of the summit that any change in Japan’s security stance should be “gradual and transparent.” He called for trust-building in Northeast Asia and added that “good relations between China and Japan are critical to the future of our region.”

Abe said he agreed with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to start concrete talks on the provision of patrol vessels to Vietnam. Japan has already agreed to provide coastguard patrol vessels to the Philippines. Japan and Cambodia today signed an agreement on defense exchanges.

To contact the reporter on this story: Isabel Reynolds in Tokyo at ireynolds1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at rmathieson3@bloomberg.net

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