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Southeast Asian leaders to avoid direct China criticism
by Staff Writers
Manila (AFP) April 26, 2017

Foot-in-mouth disease: Japan's politicians and their gaffes
Tokyo (AFP) April 26, 2017 - Japan's minister in charge of rebuilding the tsunami-hit northeast resigned Wednesday after causing offence by saying it was "good" the 2011 disaster happened there and not in Tokyo.

It was just the latest example of the foot-in-mouth disease which has long afflicted members of the Liberal Democratic Party that has governed the country for most of the past six decades.

Following are some of the most infamous examples:

-- In 1986, then-prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone came under fire for saying "the intelligence level in the United States is compromised because of the black population".

In reaction to angry protests, he made the situation worse by insisting that Japan, in contrast, was a "mono-ethnic country". That angered minority groups such as the indigenous Ainu.

-- In 1995, Takami Eto resigned as head of the Management and Coordination Agency after saying that Japan "did some good things" when it ruled the Korean peninsula as a colony from 1910-1945, such as building roads, railways and schools.

He quit after his remarks threatened to cause the cancellation of a Japan-South Korea summit.

-- In 2003, former prime minister Yoshiro Mori, one of Japan's most gaffe-prone politicians, drew fire for suggesting childless women should be denied welfare payments in old age.

"Women who have not had a single child get old after their wonderful free life and then ask for public money (in welfare). That doesn't make sense at all."

-- Also in 2003, then-senior ruling party lawmaker Seiichi Ota was forced to apologise for saying that students arrested over gang rapes were "fine, as they are in good spirits" as he lamented Japan's low birthrate.

-- In 2007, then-health minister Hakuo Yanagisawa infamously referred to women as "child-bearing machines".

-- And in 2013, blue-blood politician Taro Aso, a former prime minister who serves as finance minister, said that Japan's elderly should be allowed to "hurry up and die" instead of being kept alive and costing the government money for end-of-life medical care.

Southeast Asian leaders will express concern this week about an "escalation of activities" in the South China Sea but avoid directly criticising China, according to the draft of a summit statement.

The statement, set to be released on Saturday at the end of a two-day leaders' meeting in Manila, reflects Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's efforts to ease tensions with China over competing claims to the strategically vital waters.

The chairman's statement at the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit will merely hint at China's island-building in the sea without mentioning it by name, according to the draft obtained by AFP.

"We shared the serious concerns expressed by some leaders over recent developments and escalation of activities in the area which may further raise tensions and erode trust and confidence in the region," the statement said.

However it did not mention China directly, nor an international tribunal's ruling last year rejecting Beijing's sweeping claims to the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion dollars in annual shipping trade passes.

Four ASEAN members -- Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam -- along with China and Taiwan, have claims in the sea, which security analysts say is a potential flashpoint for conflict.

The UN-backed tribunal ruled last July that China's claims to nearly all of the sea had no legal basis and its construction activities there were illegal.

The case was filed by Duterte's predecessor Benigno Aquino, who forcefully challenged Beijing through legal and diplomatic avenues including ASEAN events. This led to a sharp deterioration in bilateral relations.

Duterte, who assumed the presidency shortly before the ruling was issued, has chosen to pursue friendly ties with China to try to win billions of dollars' worth of trade and aid.

As part of that, he has said he will not use the ruling to pressure China.

The draft follows a similar statement at an ASEAN summit in Laos last year when intensive Chinese lobbying helped to ensure there was no mention of the ruling.

The draft also noted "progress" on a so-called framework agreement for a code of conduct on the South China Sea.

Philippine diplomats have said the "framework" code of conduct might be completed by June, with China expressing optimism about the talks.

But negotiations for an actual code have already taken 15 years, after ASEAN and China adopted a non-binding agreement in 2002 to discourage hostile acts.

Meanwhile, China has built its artificial islands, which are capable of serving as military bases.

"What's the point of having a code of conduct if China has successfully militarised the South China Sea?" Renato de Castro, international studies professor at Manila's De La Salle University, told AFP.

Philippine defence chief visits disputed Spratly island
Pag-Asa, Philippines (AFP) April 21, 2017
Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana flew to a disputed South China Sea island on Friday, brushing off a challenge by the Chinese military while asserting Manila's territorial claim to the strategic region. "This is just a normal visit within our territory, which we believe and we know is (our) territory," the minister told reporters who accompanied him on the brief trip. China ... read more

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