SINGAPORE May 30 Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo
Abe told a regional security forum that Tokyo would offer its
"utmost support" to Southeast Asian countries - several locked
in maritime rows with Beijing - in their efforts to protect
their seas and airspace, as he pitched his plan for Japan to
take on a bigger international security role.
Abe, in his keynote address on Friday at the Shangri-La
Dialogue for security officials and experts from Asia, also
stressed the need for all countries to respect international law
- often code for criticising China's assertive military stance.
Tensions have ratcheted up in the region, where Japan has a
festering dispute with China over tiny isles in the sea between
the two Asian economic giants. Beijing and several Southeast
Asia countries are at odds over rival claims to the oil-and-gas
rich South China Sea.
"Japan will offer its utmost support for the efforts of the
countries of ASEAN as they work to ensure the security of the
seas and the skies, and thoroughly maintain freedom of
navigation and freedom of overflight," Abe told the forum.
Abe's address, the first to the forum by a Japanese leader,
coincides with his controversial push to ease restrictions of
the post-war, pacifist constitution that have kept its military
from fighting overseas since World War Two.
"Japan intends to play an even greater and more proactive
role than it has until now in making peace in Asia and the world
something more certain," he said.
(Reporting by Linda Sieg and Masayuki Kitano; Editing by Nick