Singapore concerned over airspace tensions

SINGAPORE - Singapore is concerned about the rising tensions over North- east Asia's airspace, given the Republic's role as an aviation hub and its interest in regional stability, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in an interview aired on Friday.

In his first remarks on the issue since Beijing unilaterally declared an air defence identification zone (ADIZ) three weeks ago, he said Singapore has asked China to clarify what the zone means for civil aviation, or non-military private and commercial flights.

"What we would like to know is also what all the airlines would like to know... how do these new ADIZs affect aviation, overflights?" PM Lee told Japanese broadcaster NHK.

Specifically, Singapore is seeking answers on how the ADIZ will be implemented, what pilots will be required to do, and what will happen to regular flights through the region, he added.

The interview took place on Monday ahead of Mr Lee's trip to Tokyo, where he arrived on Thursday for the ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit. His remarks come after South Korea, which he visited earlier this week, said on Sunday it would expand its own ADIZ to overlap with China's.

China's East China Sea ADIZ, announced on Nov 23, overlaps those of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

Beijing insists that all aircraft flying through the zone - including commercial planes not entering China's airspace - must submit flight plans for approval.

Apart from civil aviation, Mr Lee said the Republic is also concerned about what the ADIZ situation implies for the "stability and security of the political relationship between the countries".

Noting that the recent ADIZ moves are the latest in a "long series of actions" stemming from longstanding issues in North-east Asia, he said these tensions will need to be addressed over time.

"It cannot be done quickly because these are historical issues and many deep sentiments and emotions are involved, and expectation of the people and sentiments of the general public in all of the countries.

"In these disputes, (it's) difficult to say who is right, who is wrong, but all parties really ought to maintain restraint and avoid taking action which can escalate or lead to misunderstanding, or lead to some mishap and unintended consequence," he said.

"Because I don't think any of the parties want a conflict."

Singapore and Japan have managed to put aside their past and now have a "very, very good" relationship, Mr Lee noted.

But the grievances run deeper in North-east Asia than in South- east Asia, and "that is the reason why Japan has to make an extra effort to continue to be able to live at peace and cooperatively with its neighbours", he added.

Mr Lee and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also discussed regional issues at a bilateral meeting on Friday.

"Singapore and Japan have a shared interest in the peace and stability of the region," Mr Lee told media after the meeting.

Without referring to the ADIZ, he added: "There are some issues which are warm, or hotting up, and we hope that these will be well-managed and will not affect the overall stability of the region and our wider interests in cooperation and integration."

fiochan@sph.com.sg


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