Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met Friday with the top leaders from Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines and Singapore in Tokyo, expressing concerns about China’s setting of a new air defense zone over the East China Sea, Japanese officials said.

Abe is trying to garner support from other countries to put pressure on Beijing, in particular from ASEAN countries, some of which have territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea.

The issue of the air defense identification zone is expected to be raised again during the special ASEAN sessions to be held Saturday in Tokyo, cochaired by Abe and Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.

During his bilateral talk with Abe on Friday, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III pointed out that if China set up a similar zone over the South China Sea, it would greatly affect territorial disputes there, according to a Japanese official who attended the meeting.

“We reiterated our commitment to uphold the rule of law, promote the peaceful settlement of disputes, and to assure freedom of flight in international air space,” Aquino told reporters after the meeting.

Earlier Friday, Japan and the Philippines signed an agreement concerning a program to bolster the Philippine coast guard.

Under the program, Japan will extend up to ¥18.7 billion in yen loans to the Philippines, and Manila will purchase 10 coast guard ships to be made by Japanese firms.

The program is seen as part of Japan’s strategy to keep China in check by strengthening its relationship with ASEAN countries.

Earlier the same day, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the country is “deeply concerned” that disputes in the South China Sea could turn into open conflicts, and urged that solutions be pursued through international law, “self-restraint and nonuse of force.”

“Good relations between China and Japan are critical to the future of our region,” he said in a speech in Tokyo before Japanese lawmakers and other invited guests.

On Saturday, the top 10 leaders of ASEAN and Abe will jointly issue two separate statements: one to set a long-term vision for the Japan-ASEAN relationship and another to explain the common understanding of various regional and global issues.

How those statements will address China-related issues is one focus of the ASEAN meetings.

“China has unilaterally set up the ADIZ over the high seas, which is a dangerous act that would have a great impact on safety and flights,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Friday afternoon.

“I think that’s why (Abe) brought up the issue” in the bilateral meetings with the ASEAN leaders, Suga said.

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