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Japan, ASEAN justice chiefs vow to uphold rule of law amid China rise

TOKYO, July 7 ------ Justice ministers from Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations pledged Thursday to cooperate in promoting the rule of law amid China's increasing maritime assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region.

In a joint statement issued after their meeting in Tokyo, Japanese Justice Minister Ken Saito and his ASEAN counterparts reaffirmed their commitment to the "peaceful resolution of disputes" without "resorting to the threat or use of force." Japan and the 10-member ASEAN said in the statement that they will uphold and promote "shared values and fundamental principles such as the rule of law and respect for human rights, as well as national sovereignty and territorial integrity." The ministers aim to elevate the level of cooperation in the fields of law and justice by using the "momentum" of the 50th anniversary of ASEAN-Japan friendship and cooperation this year, the statement added.

Substantial cooperative ties between Tokyo and the regional bloc began in 1973 with the establishment of a Japan-ASEAN forum on synthetic rubber. Saito, meanwhile, promised that the International Cooperation Department of his ministry's Research and Training Institute will continue to provide legal technical assistance in ASEAN countries. It was the first time for ASEAN to hold a ministerial meeting on judicial matters with a country outside the bloc. "ASEAN nations are the linchpin of a free and open Indo-Pacific, and important partners" for Japan, Saito told a press conference after the talks, adding that they should work together.

The gathering came ahead of justice ministerial talks between ASEAN and the Group of Seven nations to be held this Friday in Tokyo. The G-7 ministers are also set to hold their own separate meeting on the same day. Japan chairs the rotating G-7 presidency this year. In recent years, Japan has been trying to boost relations with ASEAN as some of its members have become more vigilant against China's growing military presence in the East and South China Seas. Japan and China are at odds over the Tokyo-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which Beijing claims and calls Diaoyu. Chinese coast guard vessels have repeatedly entered Japanese territorial waters around the uninhabited islets.

Beijing has overlapping territorial claims with some members of ASEAN -- consisting of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam -- in the South China Sea.



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