PHNOM PENH – The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has dropped a reference to conflicting territorial claims involving Japan, China and South Korea in a draft of a chairman’s statement that was set to be issued later Sunday after a leaders’ summit in Phnom Penh.
Diplomatic sources said ASEAN leaders had planned to express concern about Tokyo’s disputes with Beijing over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and with Seoul over the Takeshima Islands in the Sea of Japan, but apparently decided against it to avoid “heating up” tensions before a summit that will include the leaders of the three countries Monday, as well as the wider East Asia Summit the following day.
“We expressed our concern on the differences over territorial claims in (the) East China Sea involving China, Japan and (South Korea),” the draft statement, dated Nov. 10, said. “We therefore urged all parties concerned to undertake utmost restraint and to address the issue through peaceful negotiation and dialogue with a view to ensure the maintenance of peace, stability and security in the entire region.”
The language, however, will be dropped from the draft to be released Sunday.
ASEAN officials said that during a series of summits in the Cambodian capital, the 10-member group does not wish to see a repetition of China and Japan trading barbs over the Senkakus in the same manner as at a summit of Asian and European leaders in Laos in early November.
The Senkaku Islands, known as Diaoyu in China, are administrated by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing. Meanwhile, the Japan-claimed Takeshima Islands are under the jurisdiction of South Korea, which calls them Dokdo.
“We don’t want to see tension. For us, Asia needs to focus on economic cooperation, economic development and economic prosperity, and so we need a stable environment to help out,” Thai Permanent Secretary of Foreign Affairs Sihasak Phuangketkeow told reporters Friday in Phnom Penh.
Sihasak urged Tokyo and Beijing to address the issue calmly through dialogue “by working things out diplomatically, and not to let it spill over to affect the regional situation.”
A senior Chinese official indicated Beijing does not intend to raise the Senkaku rift at the East Asia Summit, which will bring together Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and South Korean President Lee Myung Bak, as well as other regional leaders and U.S. President Barack Obama.
“We don’t think this summit is a forum for stirring up disputes,” Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying said at a press briefing Saturday in Beijing. “China and Japan are working through bilateral channels to carry out consultations on the issue.”
ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Noda leaves for summits
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda arrived at Phnom Penh on Sunday to attend a series of ASEAN-related summits that will be dominated by multiple ongoing territorial conflicts involving China and the regional association’s member states.
The summits of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and its six regional partner countries, which may be overshadowed by disagreements over how to ensure stability and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea amid a host of competing sovereignty claims, come as Tokyo is struggling to lower tensions with Beijing and Seoul over the Senkaku and Takeshima territorial clashes.
During his stay in Cambodia’s capital through Tuesday, Noda will most likely reiterate Japan’s commitment to resolving the disputes through peaceful dialogue, in accordance with international law.
“There are all kinds of changes taking place in the Asia-Pacific region,” Noda told reporters before his departure. “I would like to advance strategic dialogue with other leaders (of ASEAN and regional partner nations).”