Apec 2013: Disputes cloud Asia-Pacific summit focus on trade
BALI, Indonesia (AP) - Soured ties between China and Japan bubbled beneath the surface of a regional summit after Beijing was announced as the host of next year's meeting, putting renewed focus on the testy relationship between the two Asian powers.
The official agenda for the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting is mainly to forge a consensus on freer trade, but in speeches and meetings, territorial tangles between China and most of its neighbors were a constant subtext.
The Apec gathering, held this year on the Indonesia resort island of Bali, also gives regional leaders a chance to talk through issues in an informal setting. However, most high-level dialogue between China and Japan is on hold amid a stalemate over disputed islands in the East China Sea.
Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says the door is open to dialogue, but Tokyo is steadfastly refusing to discuss the conflicting claims over the uninhabited islands called the Senkakus in Japan and Diaoyus in China.
With the two sides so far apart, the closest the two leaders may have gotten to speaking at Apec was a brief handshake. The Apec grouping of nations and territories includes over 3 billion people and more than the half the world economy.
China will host Apec's annual summit next year and many preliminary meetings before the event. The recent souring of ties, which flared into anti-Japanese riots last year, prompted top Beijing officials to stay away from an annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund in Tokyo in 2012.
Japanese officials said they did not anticipate any problems with the Apec meeting in Beijing. But they were more forthcoming when asked about Chinese criticism of defense collaboration between Japan, Australia and the United States.
"These three countries are not only bound by treaties, but these countries value openness and rules-based structures," said Mr Tomohiko Taniguchi, a councillor in Abe's Cabinet. "We have to team up together to preserve the freedom of movement of goods in these public spaces." Territorial disputes between Southeast Asia and China that center on Beijing's vast claims to the South China Sea were also under discussion.
The 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations hope to forge agreement on a common policy in handling territorial disputes, an aim backed by Japan. Beijing, in principle committed to it, says it is not in a hurry to quickly conclude the talks.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, talking with Filipino journalists Monday evening, said there was some progress in talks between Asean and China toward drafting a code of conduct to govern how the parties solve territorial disputes.
"I am not saying that the signing of the Code of Conduct is near," Mr Aquino said. "But to convince everyone to talk about - and it is really being discussed - I think is progress in finding a solution to the rift over sovereignty." He said that after being on the backburner for 10 years, "the issue is now at the forefront of everyone's thinking." As many in the region worry over mishaps that could trigger further conflict, both China and Japan sought in Bali to reassure their neighbors over their peaceful intentions - Japan because of its wartime past, China because of its growing assertiveness as a rising economic and military power.
Meetings between Abe and his Vietnamese and Indonesian counterparts touched on their disputes with China over islands and waters in the South China Sea, said Ms Kuni Sato, press secretary at the Japanese Foreign Ministry.
"Both sides said it was important to have dialogue on issues to be resolved, including the Law of the Sea," Ms Sato said Mr Abe told Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang.
The issue also arose in Mr Abe's meeting with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, she said.
Many of the leaders gathered in Bali will go straight on to Brunei, for the annual ASEAN summit, where the same issues could take on an even higher profile.
Mr Abe, who has been exasperated by Chinese incursions into waters near the Senkakus, told business leaders in a speech Monday that Japan is "aspiring to become a pro-active contributor to stability and security in the world as a country that observes international norms." Describing Apec as a family of harmony, Xi told the same group "China is ready to live in amity with others."