Asean needs to play peace-broker in China Sea

opinion December 17, 2013 00:00

By The Nation

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Regional bloc has the power to help bring resolution to dispute between Japan and China

Leaders from Asean gathered last week in Tokyo for the Asean-Japan commemorative summit on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Asean-Japan ties. The meeting came amid high tension in the region, with the two major powerhouses China and Japan at loggerheads over Beijing’s new Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ).
Beijing announced in late November a new ADIZ that requires any aircraft flying over the area to identify itself and submit its flight plan to Chinese authorities.
China will take “defensive emergency measures” against all aircraft, including those of commercial airliners and military forces, which fail to comply.
The international community has expressed concern over this new move by Beijing and is worried such action heralds a new aviation “order” in East Asia.
Among them, Japan has expressed the most concern over the Chinese ADIZ, as it covers the area over the Senkaku/Diaoyo islands that Tokyo regards as an integral part of its territory but Beijing also claims sovereignty over. Tokyo has refused to allow its airliners to submit flight information to Beijing. 
Both countries remain deadlocked over the territorial dispute, with the newly announced ADIZ just the latest move made to establish control of the islands.
The sour relations between China and Japan have created much discomfort in Southeast Asia, where many countries have good relations with both countries. Asean, as the regional grouping of 10 states in Southeast Asia, has a long-time, clear stance to retain good relations with both Beijing and Tokyo. The group has tried desperately to avoid being forced to choose between two good friends.
China, during the 10th anniversary of strategic partnership with Asean, has made efforts to win hearts and minds within the regional bloc. Beijing has, of course, provided a lot of assistance to Asean countries. But China is also in dispute with some Asean members over South China Sea territory.
Japan, during its own Asean commemorative summit last week, also tried to win hearts and minds with warm hospitality as well as pledges of assistance in many forms. In return, Japan won a friendly pledge on the ADIZ in a joint statement issued after the summit. It said Asean and Japan had agreed to enhance cooperation to ensure the freedom of overflight and civil aviation safety in accordance with the universally recognised principle of international law.
But the pledge cannot be interpreted as Asean taking sides. Freedom and the safety of aviation are recognised by international laws and practice. All countries are obliged to obey and comply.
Asean must take a clear stance toward the conflict in East Asia, and two of its key strategic partners locked in dispute there. When countries in that region are in conflict, it should be an obligation of Asean to help seek a peaceful solution while maintaining good relations with all sides.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made clear at the beginning of the Japan-Asean summit that he would seek a peaceful solution to end the problem with China. His door of dialogue would be open all the time, he said.
Asean should support that attitude and urge its good friends in Beijing to do the same for the benefit of the peace and stability of all.