TOKYO - Japan and Southeast Asia must strengthen ties and ensure the region is based on the rule of law and not force, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Asian leaders at a summit on Saturday, amid heightened tensions over China's new air defence zone.
China's recent announcement of an air defence zone over islands in the East China Sea, which are also claimed by Tokyo, triggered protests from Japan, United States and South Korea.
China is also locked in territorial rows with other Asian nations over wide swathes of the South China Sea, including waters claimed by several members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and has said it might set up a similar air defence zone there.
"I would like to build an Asia Pacific future that respects each other's cultures and construct an economic system that is realised not by force, but by rule of law and our efforts," Abe said at the start of the Tokyo summit with the 10 ASEAN nations.
The heightened tensions with China have raised concerns that an minor incident in the disputed seas could quickly escalate.
US and Chinese warships narrowly avoid collision in South China Sea last week, the US Pacific Fleet said in a statement on Friday.
While both Japan and China in recent months have scrambled aircraft over the disputed seas and conducted naval patrols.
The Japan-ASEAN summit is the centrepiece of a three-day regional gathering officially billed as celebrating 40 years of diplomatic ties.
ASEAN groups Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Brunei.