* U.S. emphasizes dialogue as China, Japan tensions rise
* Clinton commends China for latest opening to ASEAN
* North Korea, Iran and Syria also on agenda of China
By Andrew Quinn
NEW YORK, Sept 27 U.S. Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton on Thursday urged China and Japan to let "cool
heads" prevail in a festering dispute over a cluster of islands
in the East China Sea that has soured ties between Asia's two
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 tensions over the
islands, known as the Diaoyu islands in China and the Senkakus
in Japan, a senior State Department official said.
"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
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.
Sino-Japanese relations deteriorated sharply since Japan
bought the islands from their private owner, hurting bilateral
trade ties and tourism while sparking protests across China.
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.
The islands - located in waters thought to be rich in
natural gas deposits - have been administered by Japan since
1895, but China has declared them "sacred territory" and Taiwan
has also asserted its own sovereignty over the area.
Tokyo and Beijing have traded increasingly sharp words in
the dispute, which has seen both countries send 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.
The United States has repeatedly said it takes no position
on the sovereignty dispute, but believes it is important for
China and Japan to work out their differences peacefully.
In her meeting with Yang, Clinton also touched on
territorial disputes in the South China Sea which have set
Beijing against a number of its Southeast Asian neighbors
including close U.S. ally the Philippines.
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 (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 and her Chinese counterpart also discussed North
Korea, which remains locked in a dispute with the international
community over its nuclear program, as well as the possible next
steps as the world's major powers confront Tehran over its own
nuclear ambitions, the official said.
Clinton also raised the issue of Syria, where China has
joined Russia in blocking U.S.-led moves within the U.N.
Security Council to take tough measures against Syrian President
Bashar al-Assad as his government engages in a bloody struggle
against armed rebels.
(Reporting By Andrew Quinn; editing by Todd Eastham)