SINGAPORE — Japan and the United States are increasing trilateral support to “like-minded nations,” including Southeast Asian nations involved in sea disputes with China, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday during his keynote address at the Shangri-La Dialogue, also known as the Asia Security Summit.
Although Abe barely mentioned China by name, his criticism of Beijing’s actions was unmistakable.
Abe chastised any attempts to change the status quo through “force and coercion” — a reference to China’s recent skirmish with Vietnam that ended with a sunken Vietnamese ship, as well as to attempts by China to regulate waters within the Philippines’ claimed exclusive economic zone.
The prime minister also indirectly criticized China’s declaration last year of an air defense identification zone directly over the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands, which Japanese officials said resulted in Chinese fighters flying within 100 feet of Japanese surveillance planes recently.
“What the world eagerly awaits is for our seas and our skies to be governed by the rule of law,” Abe said.
Abe announced that he had spoken recently to new India Prime Minister Narendra Modi about increasing security ties. He added that he had visited each of the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and found much common ground on matters of security.
“President Obama and I mutually confirmed that the U.S. and Japan are strengthening trilateral cooperation with like-minded partners to promote peace,” Abe said.
Japan has already agreed to provide 10 new patrol vessels to the Philippine Coast Guard, three ships to Indonesia and is moving forward to provide Vietnam with ships and expertise.
China stakes a claim to almost 90 percent of the South China Sea largely on the basis of what it deems historical discovery. The claims extend to several island groups, along with valuable energy and fisheries resources in nearby waters that are claimed by their militarily weaker neighbors.
Chinese efforts to block access to those waters have drawn criticism from both Japan and the United States.
The Chinese also claim that the Senkaku Islands, called the Diayoutai by the Chinese, were ceded to them along with Taiwan following Japan’s World War II defeat. However, the territories were not named explicitly in the 1952 Treaty of San Francisco.
Although the United States does not take an official position on the Senkakus' sovereignty, President Barack Obama confirmed during a visit to Japan in April that the U.S. is sworn to defend an attack on the Senkakus under the terms of the U.S.-Japan military alliance, making the uninhabited islands a potential global flash point.
Abe repeated several times that all nations should respect the “rule of law” during barely veiled criticisms of China’s behavior over Senkaku and other territories. However, he stopped short of agreeing to file an international court claim on Senkaku while answering a question following his speech.
Senkaku is an “inherent part of Japan,” and perhaps China should file a court claim if it believes differently, he said.
“China is the one challenging the status quo,” Abe said. “Japan effectively controls Senkaku.”