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UPDATE4: Japan, ASEAN foreign ministers discuss S. China Sea tensions.

PHNOM PENH, July 11 Kyodo


Foreign ministers from Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on Wednesday discussed recent tensions in the South China Sea and a potential free trade agreement.

Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba, who arrived in Phnom Penh in the morning, said Tokyo has no plans to interfere in territorial disputes in the South China Sea, but it has "a great deal of interest" as the stability of sea lanes is vital for the economy of each country in the region.

Gemba stressed the importance of ensuring freedom of navigation and said that all should respect relevant international laws, without specifying any country, a Japanese official said, amid growing tensions in the South China Sea, including those between China and both the Philippines and Vietnam.

"Unilateral actions must be abstained from and problems must be settled peacefully through dialogue," Gemba told his counterparts from the 10-member ASEAN.

Vietnam also expressed concern over escalating territorial disputes in the South China Sea, according to an ASEAN official.

Gemba also showed a strong interest in boosting cooperation on disaster prevention and increasing interregional transport links, partly because many companies from Tokyo and elsewhere have factories in the fast-growing region.

ASEAN, which has seen a threefold increase in its combined gross domestic product over the last decade, has collectively become Japan's second-largest trading partner after China.

Additionally, Gemba announced Japan's intention to host a special summit with ASEAN next year to coincide with the 40th anniversary of their relationship and his proposal was supported by other foreign ministers, the Japanese official accompanying the minister said.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, who co-chaired the meeting with Gemba, said, "Without doubt, ASEAN-Japan relations contribute immensely to the wider region's peace, stability and prosperity."

"We must find ways and means to explore further ways and means to enhance cooperation between ASEAN and Japan,'' Natalegawa said.

Among other regional issues, Gemba called for Japan-ASEAN solidarity against North Korea's provocative acts, according to the official.

The foreign ministers, who are in the Cambodian capital to attend a series of ASEAN-related meetings, also agreed to step up their efforts to launch talks on a new regional FTA, called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, by the end of this year, the Japanese official said.

The partnership is likely to encompass ASEAN, Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
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Publication:Asian Political News
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Jul 16, 2012
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