ASEAN Plus Three to seek expansion of economic ties amid territorial disputes

Kyodo

Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and of Japan, China and South Korea confirmed economic and financial ties during their summit Monday despite growing territorial rows between Tokyo and its two neighboring countries.

In the so-called ASEAN Plus Three summit, the 13 nations shared the view that regional financial cooperation is making progress, citing the strengthening of the Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralization scheme, which aims to address balance of payment and short-term liquidity difficulties in the region, Japanese officials said.

The leaders also agreed that they will work together to boost food security, the officials said.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and South Korean President Lee Myung Bak were brought together in an official meeting for the first time since they held talks in Beijing in May, but they did not touch on their territorial disputes, the officials said.

This may also have been their final face-to-face interaction, given that Wen is expected to resign next spring, while South Korea is scheduled to hold a presidential election Dec. 19, with Lee’s successor to be inaugurated in February.

Noda’s Democratic Party of Japan meanwhile could lose power in the Dec. 16 general election, so there is little room right now for Japan to make any headway in improving relations with China or South Korea.

Noda had no plans to hold bilateral talks with Wen or Lee on the sidelines of the ASEAN-related summits through Tuesday.

Earlier Monday, Noda emphasized the importance of international law in resolving territorial rows in the South China Sea, suggesting Japan is concerned by China’s rapid expansion of its naval capacity in resource-rich Asian waters.

Without specifically naming China, Noda told the ASEAN countries that issues related to the South China Sea are a “common concern for the international community,” Japan’s Foreign Ministry said.

Japan has no direct interest in territorial claims in the South China Sea, but it is willing to help ASEAN resolve disputes peacefully amid tensions over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

According to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency, Wen on Monday accused Japan of failing to “liquidate” its past militarism and blamed that for the tensions between the two countries over the Senkaku Islands.

In a meeting with Lee, Wen was quoted by senior South Korean presidential press secretary Choe Geum Nak as saying that he believes tensions with Tokyo flared up because Japan “failed to liquidate militarism.”

Lee said Japan’s leaning further to the right could become “an unnerving element” in the region, Yonhap quoted Choe as saying in a dispatch from Phnom Penh.

The ASEAN members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.