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Pacific Islands Dispute: Japan Urges Peace Amid Tensions

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PACIFIC ISLANDS DISPUTE
In this Sept. 2, 2012, file photo, the survey ship Koyo Maru, left, chartered by Tokyo city officials, sails around Minamikojima, foreground, Kitakojima, middle right, and Uotsuri, background, the tiny islands in the East China Sea, called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese. (AP Photo/Kyodo News, File) | AP

MANILA, Philippines -- The island disputes roiling much of Asia must be settled peacefully according to international law, Japan said Friday at an Association of Southeast Asian Nations forum attended by Tokyo's newly angered rival China and other countries with their own sea clashes brewing.

For its part, Beijing offered 3 billion yuan ($474 million) for a maritime cooperation fund with ASEAN, which has several members at odds with China over islands in the South China Sea. What the money what would be used for was not immediately clear, but the offer may have been an effort to reduce tensions.

Senior diplomats and private maritime experts from the 10-nation association and eight other countries, including China, Japan, South Korea and the United States, were gathered in Manila for a maritime forum.

In his keynote address, Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister Koji Tsuruoka said claimants in Asia's territorial disputes must reject the idea that "might is right."

"It is indispensable for any party concerned to resolve disputes over territories in a peaceful manner based on international law," Tsuruoka said, adding that countries should clarify their claims based on rules provided by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Japan's long-simmering dispute with China over some tiny East China Sea islands heated up last month after Tokyo purchased the islands from their private Japanese owners. Japan currently controls the islands, but Beijing insists that they belong to China and that the purchase violated earlier tacit agreements to set the dispute aside.

Taiwan also claims the islands. Japan has a separate territorial row with South Korea.

ASEAN members the Philippines and Vietnam, meanwhile, have clashed with China over islands in the South China Sea. ASEAN members Brunei and Malaysia also have been embroiled in South China Sea rifts.

Tsuruoka said non-ASEAN countries should maintain their commitment to uphold ASEAN's centrality and lead role in finding ways to peacefully settle disputes and strengthen maritime order in the region. It was an apparent reference to China's preference for bilateral discussion on disputes in the South China Sea instead of dealing with ASEAN as a group.

China and ASEAN, meanwhile, were discussing possible uses for China's proposed maritime fund, Vietnamese Deputy Foreign Minister Pham Quang Vinh said. ASEAN and China cooperate in maritime issues including navigation safety, biodiversity and search and rescue.

ASEAN's maritime forum began Wednesday. Friday's events were an expanded forum to include the eight non-ASEAN participants.

On Wednesday, the Philippines proposed that Southeast Asian countries create a regional information-sharing system to better watch waters troubled by territorial disputes, piracy, smuggling and rapid degradation of marine resources.

Discussions at the expanded forum focused on Law of the Sea convention, enhancing maritime connectivity in the region, seafarers training and marine environment protection.

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