VIENTIANE – Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida has conveyed Japan’s stance on South China Sea disputes to his Laotian counterpart, Saleumxay Kommasith, who is chairing an Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting debating the issue, a Foreign Ministry official said.
The ASEAN meeting is the first since an international tribunal ruled in a case brought by the Philippines that effectively invalidated China’s vast territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Japan says the ruling is binding on parties to the dispute — China and the Philippines — and has called for a peaceful resolution to rival territorial disputes in the area, and compliance with international law.
While the ministry official declined Sunday to reveal details of what Kishida told his Laotian counterpart, the official confirmed the foreign minister had conveyed Tokyo’s position.
Kishida arrived in the Laotian capital of Vientiane earlier Sunday to attend a series of regional meetings involving the 10-member ASEAN, where the South China Sea has been a hot topic amid regional tensions stirred by China’s military buildup and growing maritime assertiveness.
The international tribunal ruling handed down earlier this month denied China’s claims to historic and economic rights over almost all of the South China Sea.
Beijing has rejected the ruling and vowed to continue protecting what it calls its “historic rights” to the waters.
Japan hopes to work closely with Laos, which is widely seen as pro-China due to its dependence on investment and financial aid from the world’s second-largest economy.
In his second meeting with the Laotian minister in two months, Kishida said Japan will fully support the development of Laos’ energy and farming sectors, the official said.
Ties between the two nations are growing, with some 130 Japanese companies operating in Laos as of last month — more than twice the approximately 60 in 2012.
While Tokyo is not a claimant in the South China Sea disputes between China and five other regional countries, it is concerned about Beijing’s rising military presence in the resource-rich area, which is also a key shipping lane.
Tokyo also faces challenges from Beijing over its claim to the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the neighboring East China Sea.
ASEAN consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Ahead of the Japan-Laos talks, Kishida met with Myanmar’s foreign minister and de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and assured her of Tokyo’s backing for Myanmar’s new administration, which was launched in March, the Foreign Ministry official said.
Kishida reiterated Japan’s request that Suu Kyi visit Japan, which she was supportive of, the official said.
This is Myanmar’s first democratically elected government in more than 50 years
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