Asean, Japan agree on 'freedom of overflight' amid China row

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (third from left) poses for a photo with (from left) Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, Laos' Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong, Myanmar's President Thein Sein, Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Tha
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (third from left) poses for a photo with (from left) Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, Laos' Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong, Myanmar's President Thein Sein, Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan during a photo session for the Mekong-Japan Summit Meeting, on the sidelines of the Asean-Japan Commemorative Summit, in Tokyo, on Saturday, Dec 14, 2013. Japan and South-east Asian countries agreed on Saturday to ensure freedom of movement in the skies, in the first major gathering of the continent's leaders since China declared a controversial air defence zone. -- PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan and South-east Asian countries agreed on Saturday to ensure freedom of movement in the skies, in the first major gathering of the continent's leaders since China declared a controversial air defence zone.

At a summit between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the leaders of Asean, they "agreed to enhance cooperation in ensuring freedom of overflight and civil aviation safety".

The statement will be seen as a mild rap across the knuckles for Beijing, which is embroiled in sovereignty spats with Tokyo and four members of Asean.

The communique came at the end of a special summit to mark the 40 years of ties between Japan and the bloc, during which Mr Abe pledged US$20 billion (S$25 billion) in aid and loans to the region over five years.

The meeting was the first significant gathering of Asian leaders since China announced an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ)over the East China Sea last month, including the airspace above the Tokyo-administered Senkaku Islands, which Beijing claims as the Diaoyus.

At the time, Beijing said all aircraft entering the zone have to submit flight plans and obey orders issued by the Chinese authorities, in an announcement that was widely denounced as inflammatory.