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Japan, China in testy exchange over Tokyo's South China Sea remarks

From left, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Kono and ASEAN Secretary-General Le Luong Minh walk after a family photo before the 18th ASEAN Plus Three Foreign Ministers Meeting, part of the 50th Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum meeting in Manila, Philippines, Monday, Aug. 7, 2017. Mohd Rasfan/Pool Photo via AP

MANILA, Philippines — Japan and China had a tension-filled meeting following Tokyo’s critical remarks at the East Asia Summit over Beijing’s island-building and military activities in the West Philippine Sea, an exchange confirmed by a Japanese government spokesperson.

Japanese media reported that the China Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his newly-appointed counterpart, Taro Kono, in a bilateral meeting: “Frankly speaking, we were disappointed to hear your comments.”

This statement was in reaction to the statement of Kono, Tokyo’s top diplomat, calling on China to respect the rule of international law regarding its military construction in the South China Sea, part of which Manila claims and calls the West Philippine Sea.

Kono said that Beijing should learn how to act as a big power, a statement that was confirmed by Toshihide Ando, a Japanese deputy press secretary.

“Responsible player? Something around that line, yeah,” Ando told Philstar.com after a media conference when asked to confirm this remark from Tokyo’s chief envoy.

Ando also confirmed that Wang told the official in apparent sarcasm that Japan was doing a good job saying statements that Washington wanted it to release.

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“Yes, he said that,” Ando said. “I think he was on camera.”

Japan and China had a “frank and candid” exchange of views during their bilateral meeting, according to Ando.

He said that having a relationship with Beijing is important despite the issues that the two sides should resolve. The spokesman however declined to specify these issues.

Japan, US, Australia issue strong statement

Japan, together with the US and Australia, issued a strong statement over the developments in the disputed sea.

In a joint statement after their trilateral meeting which was stronger that the communique released by the 10-member ASEAN, the three nations said that they were concerned over the developments in the region, through which $5 billion worth of trade passes each year.

Kono, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop also called on Manila and Beijing to abide by the UN arbitral ruling which invalidated most of China’s expansive claim in the area.

China, based on supposed historical rights, claims almost 90 percent of the sea.

The three chief diplomats also stressed the importance of respecting freedom of navigation and overflight and other internationally lawful uses of the area.

“The ministers voiced their strong opposition to coercive unilateral actions that could alter the status quo and increase tensions,” they said.

The three countries added: “[T]he ministers urged SCS claimants to refrain from land reclamation, construction of outposts, militarization of disputed features, and undertaking unilateral actions that cause permanent physical change to the marine environment in areas pending delimitation.”

Japan said it treats the developments in the West Philippine Sea as a regional issue, which makes it an international concern.

“South China Sea is directly related to the peace and stability of the region,” he said.

“We hope that this issue will have a peaceful solution of the disputes [in accordance with] international law, UNCLOS,” Ando added, addressing Chinese condition that negotiations on the code of conduct be free of outside interference.

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