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Japan pledges billions in aid to Southeast Asian nations during ASEAN summit

Japan has pledged almost $20 billion in aid during a summit of ASEAN nations. The group also agreed to ensure freedom of movement in the skies in the wake of China's declaration of a controversial air defense zone.

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Japan reaches out to neighbors

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offered the 2 trillion yen, (14.1 billion euros, $19.4 billion), in aid and loans to southeastern Asia on Saturday during a meeting of the 10 leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Tokyo.

The pledge, which will be paid out over a five-year period, is reportedly aimed at closing the region's development gap and improving its disaster preparedness.

Saturday's summit marked 40 years of ties between Japan and the bloc at a time of increasing concern over China's growing assertiveness in the region.

It was also the first significant meeting of the leaders since China announced the creation of an air defense zone over the East China Sea last month. The Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) covers the disputed islands claimed by Japan and China - known as the Senkaku Islands in Tokyo and Diaoyus in Beijing.

Freedom of navigation pledge

While the dispute wasn't directly mentioned in a joint communiqué released after the summit, the leaders did offer a promise to ensure the freedom of navigation over the region, in what will be seen as a clear rejection of the ADIZ.

According to the statement the leaders agreed to "freedom of overflight and aviation safety in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law."

Japan, South Korea and the United States have all openly defied regulations tied to China's air defense zone, flying planes across the region without submitting flight plans to Chinese authorities.

The creation of the ADIZ has raised fears China could also attempt to create a similar zone over the South China Sea, which Beijing claims almost entirely.

ccp/ipj (AFP, AP)

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