Japan and Vietnam discuss the South China Sea crisis on the sidelines of the Japan-Mekong Summit in Tokyo. (Reuters)

Japan and Vietnam discuss the South China Sea crisis on the sidelines of the Japan-Mekong Summit in Tokyo. (Reuters)

(Reuters) Japan and Vietnam discussed on Saturday (July 4) China’s recent maritime expansion in areas of the South China Sea over which several other countries have rival claims.

China has stoked regional tensions by building artificial islands in areas of the South China Sea that other countries have claimed as their own.

The talks between the two countries were held on the sidelines of a Japan-Mekong Summit in Tokyo.

“We shared our severe concerns about the change in the status quo in the South China Sea, with the large scale landfills and construction of military buildings,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters at the end of the bilateral meeting.

“Both sides have agreed to remind all parties to maintain the security of the region for the freedom of shipping lanes and flights, and to call upon all members to abide by international laws and the 1982 United Nations Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, and not to complicate the situation or exacerbate the conflict,” added Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.

In a veiled criticism of China’s recent maritime expansion, a summary of the Japan-Mekong cooperation agreement read, “Both sides noted concerns expressed over the recent development in the South China Sea, which will further complicate the situation and erode trust and confidence and may undermine regional peace, security and stability.”

Abe also met leaders of Cambodia and Laos after wrapping up the two-day meeting in Tokyo.

The Japan-Mekong summit ended with an announcement that Japan would extend 750 billion yen in development aid to Mekong region countries. Tokyo’s planned assistance over the next three years follows a pledged aid of 600 billion yen to the five nations in the preceding three-year period.

This is as China prepared to launch a new institutional lender seen as encroaching on the regional clout of Tokyo and ally Washington. It contrasts with the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), whose projects Washington has said may not properly safeguard the environment.

Sino-Japanese relations have been plagued by territorial disputes and the legacy of Japan’s wartime aggression, although ties have seen a thaw since Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping held their first joint summit last year.

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