EU, Japan say wary of unilateral actions in South China Sea

Japan' Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and European Council President Donald Tusk shake hands after a joint news conference after a Japan-EU summit meeting in Tokyo on May 29, 2015. The European Union and Japan are concerned about unilateral actions that c
Japan' Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and European Council President Donald Tusk shake hands after a joint news conference after a Japan-EU summit meeting in Tokyo on May 29, 2015. The European Union and Japan are concerned about unilateral actions that change the status quo in the South China Sea, a joint statement said. -- PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (REUTERS) - The European Union and Japan are concerned about unilateral actions that change the status quo in the South China Sea, a joint statement said on Friday, with China's reclamation in disputed waters stoking regional tensions.

"We continue to observe the situation in the East and South China Sea and are concerned by any unilateral actions that change the status quo and increase tensions," said the statement issued after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk and other EU leaders.

"We urge all parties ... to refrain from unilateral actions, including the threat or use of force and coercion," it said.

The remark comes after the United States publicly highlighted Chinese island-building in the disputed Spratly islands several times in recent weeks.

US Defence Secretary Ash Carter called for an end to the land reclamation work by China and other countries on Wednesday and a halt to the militarisation of the territorial dispute.

China claims sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, through which much of Japan's ship-borne trade passes. The Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims.

Japan itself is embroiled in a row with China over a group of East China Sea islets, with patrol ships and fighter jets routinely shadowing each other near the uninhabited islands. "We agreed disputes must be resolved peacefully and in accordance with international law," Tusk told a joint news conference in Tokyo without mentioning specific countries.

Tusk, along with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, were in Tokyo to attend the annual Japan-EU summit meeting.

On the economic front, Japan and the EU reiterated their target of reaching an agreement on a free-trade deal by the end of the year. "We've agreed to expedite negotiations further with eyes on reaching a broad agreement within this year," Abe said.

Japan is also in negotiations with the United States and 10 other countries to form an Asia-Pacific free trade zone called Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). "Japan may be on the threshold of two major FTAs (free trade agreements) which would significantly enhance the market access of Japanese multinationals to the EU and the US," said Rajiv Biswas, economist at research firm IHS.