TOKYO - Japan and East Timor expressed Tuesday ''serious concern over the recent situation in the South China Sea,'' a veiled criticism against Beijing's aggressive assertion of territorial claims including its construction of islands in the disputed Spratly archipelago.
In a meeting in Tokyo with East Timorese President Taur Matan Ruak, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to continue helping East Timor boost its capacity of maintaining maritime security and in addition promised 5 billion yen (about $44 million) in development aid for the Southeast Asian country, according to a joint press release issued after the meeting.
Abe reiterated Japan's support to East Timor's accession to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the document said.
The two leaders voiced "opposition to any unilateral actions that could change the status quo and increase tensions," it said, in an apparent reference to China's island building in the hotly contested Spratly Islands and its deployment of surface-to-air missiles on disputed territory in the Paracel Islands.
Speaking at a joint news conference after the meeting, Abe said, "It was significant that (Japan) affirmed coordination with East Timor, a country that shares the principle of the rule of law, in realizing open and stable seas."
Ruak said he appreciates Japan's support for his country's accession to ASEAN and Tokyo's development assistance toward achieving the goal.
China has been embroiled in overlapping territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea with Taiwan and four ASEAN member states -- Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
The six other ASEAN members are Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand.
Ruak expressed appreciation for the Japanese Self-Defense Forces' commitment to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, as well as its participation in an exercise hosted by the Australian Defense Force, according to the document.
Abe expressed an intention to further promote bilateral defense cooperation, it said.
Ruak, on his first visit to Japan since taking office in May 2012, also said he appreciated the SDF's contribution to the consolidation of peace, reconstruction and development of East Timor since its independence in 2002.
The two leaders agreed that East Timor, as a producer of oil and natural gas, has contributed to Japan's energy security, and has an important potential in the field.