JAPANESE Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a veiled attack at China as he expressed “deep remorse” Wednesday for Japan’s World War II aggression at a summit attended by Asian leaders, but stopped short of repeating previous apologies in a move that risks angering Beijing and Seoul.
“We should never allow to go unchecked the use of force by the mightier to twist the weaker around,” Abe said at the Asia-Africa Summit in Jakarta that was also attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Beijing and Tokyo are at odds over the sovereignty of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, which Japan administers and calls the Senkakus but which China claims as the Diaoyus.
China is also locked in territorial disputes in the South China Sea with several countries, and tensions are particularly high with the Philippines.
The mayor in the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) town in Palawan said he was worried about China’s aggressive behavior in the Spratly Islands and the threat to Filipino troops stationed in Ayungin Shoal, but said an armed confrontation was unlikely.
“Of course we are worried too for our safety. [But] is China ready to spark a third world war with... the United States and its allies just because of these islets? I don’t think so,” Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon said in a phone interview with The Standard.
Bito-onon said they too are watching the developments between Manila and Beijing regarding the massive reclamation that the Chinese are undertaking in the Spratlys, including some reefs located within the KIG.
In Camp Aguinaldo, military spokesman Brig. Gen. Joselito Kakilala said they were worried that if China sealed off the area, they would be unable to resupply Filipino troops on the BRP Sierra Madre, which is grounded in the Ayungin Shoal.
China’s Navy and Coast Guard have tried to block resupply missions to Ayungin before, Kakilala said.
He also reiterated AFP chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr.’s call on China to stop its reclamation activities and to respect the 1992 Code of Conduct of Parties and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Reacting to Senator Francis Escudero’s suggestion that a diplomat and not a military official speak on the issue, Kakilala said Catapang cannot help worrying about the implication of China’s activities on national security.
“The AFP chief of staff merely supported the President who also raised this concern in public. General Catapang believes that the massive reclamation must be made known to all including the international community. He is concerned about its direct implication on our troops who... safeguard our territories in the KIG,” he added.
Earlier, Escudero said he believed the Foreign Affairs Department should issue statements on China’s aggressive behavior so as not to further strain relations between Manila and Beijing.
Kakilala said the Armed Forces respected Escudero’s advice and would await guidance from their commander-in-chief, President Benigno Aquino III.
On Monday, at the start of joint military exercises with the United States, Catapang gave an assessment of what was happening in the West Philippine Sea as Beijing is rushing to reclaim coral reefs located within KIG.
He urged China to stop these massive reclamations for the sake of peace and stability in the region and to avoid the destruction of the marine biodiversity inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
The Palace said Wednesday that China’s disputed nine-dash line policy would affect other countries and not just the Philippines.
“If you recall, the President has already mentioned this a number of times. South China Sea covers a number of countries and the nine-dash line that China holds applies not only against the Philippines. It applies to all the neighboring countries,” said presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda.
“What do we profit from dealing with China when there are other borders, other countries that also have a stake in the South China Sea? Hence, for that particular reason, we have adopted an approach which is multilateral,” said Lacierda.
Lacierda said that the Philippines has engaged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as a committee of nations in the same region, as well as resorting to international arbitration as an acknowledgement that “we are all bound by international law.”
“And all of us should respect the international law as an arbiter of conflicts between nations,” the Palace official said.
Lacierda declined to comment on the likelihood that the Navy would deploy its Hamilton-class cutter to protect Filipino fisherment in the disputed areas such as the Panatag Shoal and the Ayungin Shoal.
At the Jakarta summit, China’s President Xi made no mention of regional tensions but called for a “fair” global financial system, as Beijing increasingly wins support for its new regional development bank in the face of US opposition.
Attention will again focus on Abe’s choice of words about the war when he heads to the United States this weekend on a week-long trip, during which he will address a joint session of congress.
Abe’s Jakarta speech was just his latest move that risks inflaming regional tensions—it came after he this week sent an offering to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, the supposed repository of the country’s war dead including 14 infamous war criminals.
And on Wednesday, more than 100 Japanese lawmakers visited the shrine, which China and South Korea view as a symbol of Japan’s unwillingness to repent for aggressive warring, drawing a swift rebuke from Seoul, which expressed “deep disappointment and regret.” —With AFP
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