U.S. call for "cool heads" in China-Japan island dispute goes unheeded

NEW YORK Fri Sep 28, 2012 4:00am EDT

1 of 4. A policeman gestures at a photographer to stop taking pictures as he and other police officers block a protester shouting anti-China slogans in front of the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo September 28, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged China and Japan on Thursday to let "cool heads" prevail in a festering dispute over a cluster of East China Sea islands, but hours later Chinese and Japanese diplomats traded barbs at the United Nations.

Clinton met Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on the sidelines of this week's U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York and said it was important to ratchet down the quarrel over the islands that has soured ties between Asia's two largest economies, a senior State Department official said.

The uninhabited islets, whose nearby waters are thought to hold potentially rich natural gas reserves, are known as the Diaoyu islands in China and the Senkaku islands in Japan. They have been under Japan's control since 1895.

"The secretary ... again urged that cooler heads prevail, that Japan and China engage in dialogue to calm the waters," the official told reporters.

"We believe that Japan and China have the resources, have the restraint, have the ability to work on this directly and take tensions down, and that is our message to both sides," the official said.

Yang, however, used a portion of China's annual address to the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday night to forcefully restate Beijing's stance that the islands had belonged to China from ancient times and were seized in 1895 after Japan defeated the Qing Dynasty in a war.

Yang also condemned the Japanese government's purchase of the islands earlier this month from their private owner, a step that sparked protests across China and prompted Beijing to curb bilateral trade and tourism.

"The moves taken by Japan are totally illegal and invalid," he said of the purchase, which Tokyo says was done to ease the dispute by preventing the islands' use by Japanese activists.

"They can in no way change the historical fact that Japan stole the Diaoyudao and affiliated islands and that China has sovereignty over them," Yang told the General Assembly. Diaoyudao is what China calls the main island in the cluster.

DUELING CLAIMS AT U.N.

Japan then exercised its right to reply in General Assembly debate, restating Tokyo's position that no sovereignty dispute exists and that Japan began surveying the islands a decade before deciding to incorporate them in 1895, and there exists no evidence that the islands belonged to China.

"It has only been since the 1970s that the government of China and the Taiwanese authorities began making their assertions on territorial sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands," said Kazuo Kodama, Japan's deputy U.N. ambassador.

"Before then they did not express any objections," he added.

Not to be outdone, China's U.N. Ambassador Li Baodong accused the Japanese envoy of "resorting to spurious, fallacious arguments that defy all reason and logic."

"The recent so-called purchase of the islands is nothing different than money laundering," he said, accusing Tokyo of buying stolen property when it acquired the islands this month.

China has declared the islands "sacred territory," and Taiwan has also asserted its own sovereignty over the area.

Clinton was due to meet Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba and South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan in a three-way meeting on Friday. Japan and South Korea, two close U.S. allies, have also seen their relationship rocked in recent months by maritime territorial disputes.

In hour-long talks on the sidelines of the United Nations on Tuesday, Japan's Gemba urged China to exercise restraint over the dispute. Japanese diplomats described the meeting as "tense," as Gemba endured a stern lecture from China's Yang.

Yang called on Tokyo to handle the dispute through negotiation, and Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said "it is necessary for both countries to maintain and strengthen bilateral communications and respond to the issue calmly and with a broad perspective in mind."

ESCALATION RISK

Both China and Japan have sent patrol boats in a game of cat-and-mouse in the waters near the disputed islands, raising concerns that an unintended collision or other incident could escalate into a broader clash.

In a further sign of economic fallout from the dispute, Chinese buyers and Japanese sellers of refined copper have postponed agreement on terms for 2013 shipments.

Chinese and Japanese companies failed to reach a deal in talks this week, even though Japanese sellers were willing to cut price premiums by about 10 percent from last year, a Chinese executive familiar with the talks said.

The United States has said repeatedly it takes no position on the sovereignty dispute, but believes it is important for China and Japan to work out their differences peacefully. Washington has repeatedly confirmed, however, that the U.S.-Japan security treaty would apply to the islands in the event of military attack.

In her meeting with Yang, Clinton also touched on territorial disputes in the South China Sea that have set Beijing against a number of its Southeast Asian neighbors, including the Philippines, a close U.S. ally.

China has resisted calls by the United States and some Southeast Asian countries to agree on a multilateral framework to settle the disputes, preferring to engage with each of the other less powerful claimants individually.

The U.S. official said Clinton welcomed moves by China to restart informal meetings with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, most recently in Cambodia two weeks ago, as a sign of progress.

"We expect these meetings are going to continue in the lead-up to the East Asia Summit in November," the official said. "This is precisely what the secretary has been advocating, that they restart a dialogue."

Clinton met later with a delegation of ASEAN ministers, who were guardedly upbeat about China's latest moves, a second U.S. official said.

"We are going to have to wait and see over the course of the next several weeks, but we have obviously encouraged the process to grow and deepen," the official told reporters.

(Editing by Todd Eastham and Mohammad Zargham)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (47)
Abulafiah wrote:
The question here is whether China has the sense to heed the warnings.

Nobody except obedient Chinese sheep take their claim seriously, and the USA couldn’t make it much clearer that Chinese agression will be met by US military.

The danger is that the Chinese leadership do so much blustering that they can’t back away without a huge loss of face. I doubt that will happen, as a military defeat is an even bigger loss of face, but it is not impossible.

Sep 27, 2012 10:23pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
cyke1 wrote:
Havn’t really heard much in way of Japanese people doing things over the islands, but heard tons of things happening in china. Chinese guy driving a Toyota got attacked by a mob cause his car. Mob’s Buring Japanese based businesses, even ones they think are Japanese even though they are Korean. Heck they even attacked Italian console’s car since it was a Toyota, granted I love to see a Toyota burn cause I hate the car brand but they getting way outta hand with all this, to even attack foreign diplomat you think Chinese gov would see this has crossed a line a long time ago

Sep 28, 2012 1:48am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Reiguss wrote:
@Abulahfiah

That’s only if you’re looking at the point of GDP per capita. Yes it may be true that when looking at per capita, China ranks far behind Japan, but you also must realize China has a population of 1.3 Billion compared to Japan’s 128 million. With 10 times the popluation of Japan, but Japan only having 5 times more GDP per capita than China, you can, in a sense, say that China is doing fairly well. However, what you’re wrong about is the education part. China has an incredibly competetive education system, and the result has been China dominating in fields such as reading, math, and science. The reason why so many people are doing stupid things such as breaking Japanese cars, products (and frankly Korean stores was probably done on purpose, since China-Korean ties arn’t all that great either) is because the hate from Japanese occupation from WWII and even before that has only intensified ever since the introduction of tv in China, where anti-Japanese shows frequently shows Japanese solders/ citizens in China doing inhumane things to Chinese civilians (Watch flowers of war for a short example). Also regarding your point about living standards. Yes people’s pay are low, and it’s true that places are much dirtier than they should be (and yes I do agree that there are some problems with how people behaves), but the cost of stuff itself is relatively cheap. For example, the exact same product that costs $3 in the US costs around 3 RMB in China (around 50 cents). This is one problem that the GDP per capita doesn’t address, as it only measures product and service production, not the actual cost of living.

In the end, what I want to say is…
If you’ve never been to China, and never understood Chinese sentiments of China – Japan relations, then stop spouting your western bs here.

Sep 28, 2012 8:15am EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

Pictures