BRISBANE, Australia (AFP) – The US, Australian and Japanese leaders on Sunday called for peaceful resolutions of maritime disputes, a day after Barack Obama warned of the dangers of outright conflict in Asia as China contests disputed territory.
In a joint statement Obama, Tony Abbott and Shinzo Abe urged “freedom of navigation and over-flight, and the peaceful resolution of maritime disputes in accordance with international law”.
The trio said they were committed to deepening their already strong security cooperation in the Asia-Pacific, which comes amid China’s increasingly assertive expansion in the region.
Beijing is locked in dispute with four Southeast Asian countries over lonely outcrops in the South China Sea, and with Japan over another set of islets.
The three leaders, meeting in Brisbane on the sidelines of the G20 leaders summit, said their partnership aimed to ensure a peaceful, stable, and prosperous future for the Asia-Pacific.
“They noted that this partnership rests on the unshakable foundation of shared interests and values, including a commitment to democracy and open economies, the rule of law, and the peaceful resolution of disputes,” the statement said.
“The three leaders reaffirmed the global reach of their cooperation and the value of comprehensive US engagement in the Asia-Pacific region.”
Obama has repeatedly denied that the United States is bent on thwarting China’s economic and political emergence, but has stressed that Beijing must be a responsible actor on the world stage.
In a speech in Brisbane on Saturday he warned of the dangers of outright conflict in Asia and vowed that Washington would remain anchored in the region.
The US president said while there had been stunning economic progress in Asia since World War II, there were also genuine dangers, saying there were “disputes over territory – remote islands and rocky shoals – that threaten to spiral into confrontation”.
The prospect of a stronger tripartite alliance, which the leaders said would include enhanced cooperation on trilateral exercises, maritime security capacity building and maritime domain awareness, may rankle Beijing.
China has repeatedly warned of what it says is the danger of Japan “remilitarising” under Abe, and regularly lambasts Tokyo for its apparent lack of repentance for misdeeds before and during World War II.
Abe signalled his eagerness to lift defence ties with Washington and Canberra in an opinion piece for the Australian Financial Review published Friday, calling for “a peaceful, secure and prosperous future for the Asia-Pacific region”.