Southeast Asian leaders have already responded with prudence on the first day of the Japan-ASEAN summit in Tokyo after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spent the whole year lobbying them to encircle China, observers said.
Abe repeatedly stressed Japan's firm opposition to China's decision to establish the East China Sea Air Defence Identification Zone as he met with leaders of Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines separately on Friday, local media reported.
However, most of the leaders involved seemed unwilling to make a clear position on whether to align with Tokyo or not in regard to countering China on the so-called "navigation and airspace freedom issue".
"Some ASEAN members have deep historical relations with China, and there are differing attitudes between them and those who are involved in the territorial issues regarding the South China Sea," Japan's Asahi Television commented on Friday.
Japan and ASEAN leaders are celebrating the 40th anniversary of relations. Abe has already visited all 10 ASEAN countries since taking office last December, putting China on the agenda of each of his visits.
Wu Jinan, a senior research fellow on Japanese studies at Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said the hawkish Japanese prime minister has "devoted unprecedented dedication and frequency" in his "Year of Southeast Asian Diplomacy" for promoting an encirclement against China.
"Abe has spared no effort in underscoring - even exaggerating - the shared value and ideological belief between Japan and the Southeast Asian counterpart," Wu said.
Following the summit talks on Saturday, Japan and ASEAN will issue a joint statement and a document that will map out the "vision" of future Japan-ASEAN ties, according to the Kyodo News Agency.
But whether the joint statement will reflect Japan's desired reference to China's air defence zone is "uncertain" as there are differences among ASEAN members with respect to their approach to China, Kyodo said.