Japan is hosting a special summit with the member nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this weekend. Pundits however say that one side agenda is to strengthen relationships with countries excessively influenced by China, in hopes of swaying their loyalties to the Asian giant. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is also expected to seek support from the 10 members of the ASEAN who also have their own disputes with China.
The summit will mark the 40th anniversary of Japan and ASEAN relations and comes at a time when the country is trying to recapture the region, which has been dominated by China in recent years. Recently, China launched an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) over an area in the East China Sea, including a territory that is still being disputed with Japan, which added to the already rocky bilateral relations. The ADIZ requires foreign planes entering the zone to provide a flight plan to Chinese authorities or face possible “defensive emergency measures” which is still unclear at this point.
The ADIZ has sparked talks of a similar zone to be placed on the South China Sea, affecting countries such as The Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia with both Manila and Hanoi criticizing China of overt aggressive moves. Some analysts see the move as China’s strategy to divide regions and countries so it can negotiate with them individually. Japan, South Korea and the United States have already declared that they would ignore the ADIZ and even sent military planes in an act of defiance over China’s assertion.
Ichiro Fujisaki, a professor at the Sophia University in Tokyo and former Japanese ambassador to the U.S. said, “It’s important that Japan and ASEAN jointly express some kind of political message on freedom of overflight and navigation on high seas.” Also saying that, “If Japanese and ASEAN leaders fail to touch on the issue, it will encourage expansionist factions inside China to take more aggressive actions.” Japan and the ASEAN member nations are expected to issue a statement on a long-term plan for Japan-ASEAN cooperation which will cover security and economic factors.