TOKYO, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose country is embroiled in a row with China over tiny islands, on Thursday quoted former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's reflections on the 1982 Falklands war with Argentina to stress the importance of the rule of law at sea.
"Our national interests have been immutable. They lie in making the seas, which are the foundation of our nation's existence, completely open, free and peaceful," Abe said in a prepared policy speech to parliament covering a wide range of issues.
Abe went on to quote a remark from Thatcher's memoirs, reflecting on the Falklands war, in which she said Britain was defending the fundamental principle that international law should prevail over the use of force.
The war over the remote South Atlantic archepelago began when Argentine troops landed on the Falkland islands on April 2, 1982, and ended 74 days later with their surrender. The conflict killed about 650 Argentine and 255 British troops.
Continuing in his own words, Abe said: "The rule of law at sea. I want to appeal to international society that in modern times changes to the status quo by the use of force will justify nothing."
Tokyo's ties with Beijing chilled sharply after the Japanese government last September bought the rocky islands in the East China Sea, which are controlled by Japan but also claimed by China, from a private owner, sparking violent protests in China.
A flare-up in tensions in the territorial row has raised fears of an unintended military incident near the islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China. The United States says the islets fall under a U.S.-Japan security pact, but Washington is keen to avoid a clash in the economically vital region.
The hawkish Abe, who took office in December after his conservative party's big election win, reiterated in his speech that the islands are Japanese territory, and urged Beijing not to escalate tensions.
He added, however, that Sino-Japanese relations were vital for Japan and said his door was always open to dialogue.
Abe also stressed the importance of the U.S.-Japan security alliance days after his summit with President Barack Obama.
Calling the U.S. alliance the axis of Japan's diplomacy and security policies, Abe said: "It is only logical that, in the open oceans, the United States, which is the world's largest marine state, and Japan, Asia's largest maritime democracy, form a partnership, and to fortify this constantly is necessary." (Reporting by Linda Sieg, Tetsushi Kajimoto and Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Ken Wills)