Japan, Southeast Asia agree to boost economic ties

Japan, Southeast Asia agree to boost economic ties

TOKYO - Japan and Southeast Asian countries Sunday pledged to boost economic and security ties, a day after they agreed on the importance of ensuring freedom of the skies after China declared a controversial air defence zone.

The leaders were discussing increasing exchanges of top diplomats and defence officials and closer coastguard cooperation, finalising a three-day special summit between Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), officials said.

Tokyo Saturday pledged $20 billion (S$25.1 billion) in aid and loans to Southeast Asia at the summit with leaders of the ASEAN regional bloc, the latest step in its bid to woo global public opinion in its territorial dispute with China

In bilateral talks Sunday, Japan and Myanmar also agreed on an investment accord to accelerate Japanese investment in the former junta-ruled country, while Tokyo and Laos agreed to kick-start talks on a civil aviation agreement, officials said.

The talks came a day after Japan and ASEAN agreed on the importance of the "freedom of overflight and civil aviation safety", seen as a mild regional rebuke to China for its unilateral declaration of an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ).

Beijing said all aircraft entering the zone have to submit flight plans and obey orders issued by Chinese authorities, in an announcement last month that was widely criticised as increasing regional tensions.

Some analysts fear the ADIZ in the East China Sea is a forerunner to a similar zone in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims almost in its entirety.

China has sovereignty disputes with four members of ASEAN - the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei - and has been repeatedly accused of intimidation and coercion.

"We will continue to provide support, both at the public and private level, for infrastructure building initiatives and work toward Myanmar's development," Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said after meeting with Myanmar's President Thein Sein.

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