KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 22, 2015:

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the higher level of maritime activities in the surrounding areas of China are a cause of concern for the region, including Japan and the international community, and the situation was being closely watched.

“We have consistently made that there is an importance of three principles of rule of law at sea, namely claims be based on international law, there should be no use of force or coercion by intimidation, and any dispute must be settled in a peaceful way.

“These three principles are endorsed by many countries, including Asean,” he said at a news conference after wrapping up a series of regional summits in Kuala Lumpur.

He said in South China Sea, Japan had approached the situation with active programmes contributing to the stabilisation of the region, such as support for capacity building and joining in the joint exercise between Japan and the United States and will proceed in that way going forward.

On the other hand, as of now, the (Japanese Maritime) Self-Defence Force (MSDF) is not conducting any continuous or ordinary surveillance and reconnaissance activities in South China Sea, and Japan has no concrete plan.

“With respect to the operation of freedom of navigation done by the United States (US), we endorse that but, on the other hand, this campaign is something carried out by the United States alone on its own volition.

“Some people will have misunderstanding but this operation, the freedom of navigation, is quite different from the activities of SDF.”

The MSDF and the US Navy held a joint naval exercise in the South China Sea in October.

Abe further said that as far as Japan is concerned, the country will be watching closely the possible impact of the situation in South China Sea on its security.

“We will bear in mind various options and I would like to proceed with full study of the situation.

“In any event, in order to safeguard an open free and peaceful ocean, there has to be a collaboration of the members of the international community,” he said, when asked to comment on Chinese advancement into maritime areas in the sense that the larger country has been building outposts in areas pending final delineation.

Abe’s remarks come amidst growing tensions in the disputed South China Sea in part due to China’s ongoing land-reclamation projected in the contested waterway.

Last month, the US sent a guided-missile destroyer within the 12-nautical-mile (22km) territorial limit claimed by China around Subi Reef in the Spratly archipelago.

Malaysia is seeking explanations from China and US over the presence of their warships in Spratly Islands

China, Taiwan and Asean members, namely the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei, have been wrangling over ownership and control of the South China Sea, a resource-rich and busy waterway, in a conflict that has flared on and off for decades.

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