A joint statement by the United States, Japan and Australia opposing "coercive unilateral actions" in East China Sea territorial disputes is being seen as aimed squarely at Beijing.
The statement issued after a three-way meeting on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum summit was the fruit of Japan's efforts to rally support in the dispute over the Diaoyu, or Senkaku, islands, analysts said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop met on the sidelines of the Apec summit in Bali on Friday. Although the statement did not name China, it highlighted the East and South China seas, where Beijing has been engaged in several tense territorial disputes.
The three countries "opposed any coercive unilateral actions that could change the status quo in the East China Sea", the statement said. They stressed "the importance of efforts to reduce tensions and to avoid miscalculations or accidents".
The statement also "affirmed the importance of peace and stability, respect for international law, unimpeded trade and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea".
Professor Zhuang Jianzhong, deputy director of Shanghai Jiaotong University's Centre for National Strategy Studies, said he believed Japan played a leading role in coming up with the statement.
"The joint statement obviously targets China even though it deliberately avoided naming China or 'Diaoyus'," he said.
The same three nations once considered a military alliance similar to Nato in the Asia-Pacific region as a way to contain China's rise, Zhuang noted. He pointed out that none of the countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations wanted to offend China openly by joining the Japanese cause.
Japan's Kyodo News reported that Kishida had reiterated Tokyo's concern over increased Chinese naval activity in the East and South China seas at the Apec ministerial meeting.
Liu Jiangyong, an international relations professor at Tsinghua University, said: "Japan is going to interfere in China's territorial dispute with its neighbours … citing 'freedom of navigation', but it has chosen the wrong tactics in this issue."