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China reiterates claim to Diaoyu Islands

BEIJING, Nov. 3 (UPI) -- China has rejected U.S. mediation between Tokyo and Beijing over the disputed Diaoyu Islands and reiterated that they are sovereign Chinese territory.

China also brushed aside any suggestion by either Japan or the United States that the issue of sovereignty over the island falls within the scope of a Japanese-U.S. security treaty.

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"I'd like to clarify the discussions between Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Hanoi last week," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said. "I'd like to stress that this is only the thinking of the U.S. side."

He said that during the talks both sides discussed strengthening cooperation between China, Japan and the United States to work together for the peace and development of the Asia-Pacific region.

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But Ma said China is looking at all its options for dialogue and cooperation with countries in the region with the hope of promoting peace and development.

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"The Diaoyu Islands and their adjacent islets are an inalienable part of China's territory and the territorial dispute over the islands is an issue between China and Japan," Ma said.

"It is absolutely wrong for the United States to repeatedly claim the Diaoyu Islands fall within the scope of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. What the United States should do is to immediately correct its wrong position."

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Disputes over who owns the five islands and three rocky outcrops predate World War II. At the end of the war in 1945 they were under U.S. jurisdiction as part of the captured island of Okinawa. But they have been under Japanese jurisdiction since 1972 when Okinawa was returned to Japan.

The islands are 106 miles north of Japan's Ishigaki Island and 116 miles northeast of Keelung city on northern Taiwan. They lie 255 miles west of Okinawa Island but Japan argues they are part of the Japanese Ryukyu Islands group.

Fishing boats from the Chinese mainland and Taiwan from time to time enter what Japan considers its territorial waters around the islands.

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Ma's comments reflect the disrupted relations between Japan and China since early September when Japanese patrol vessels detained a Chinese fishing boat in the area. The Japanese also allege that the captain of the trawler, the Minjinyu 5179, deliberately rammed the two Japanese vessels during its escape bid from the islands, known in Japan as the Senkaku Islands.

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The sailors, captain and boat were eventually returned to China but Japan repeatedly has demanded an apology from Beijing over the incident, something which China said it will never do.

Sovereignty discussions could become more complicated because Taiwan also claims islands, previously called the Pinnacle Group in English. A diplomatic storm blew up between Taiwan and Japan in 2008 when a Taiwanese trawler sank near the islands after colliding with a Japanese patrol ship.

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The increasingly heated Diaoyu Islands dispute comes as Japan and Russia faced off this week in a war of words over another disputed island group, the Kurils.

Japan claims that four of the islands closest to the Japanese Island of Hokkaido are Japanese territory. The largest and most northerly is Iturup Island, around 120 miles long and up to 15 miles wide. Kunashir Island, the second largest -- 80 miles by 15 miles – is also the closest of the four islands to Hokkaido.

This week Russian President Dmitry Medvedev became the first Russian leader to visit the four disputed Islands when he landed on Kunashir, the second largest of the disputed territories, and pledged more investment for the region.

Tokyo immediately reacted. Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan called Medvedev's visit regrettable and Russia's envoy was summoned. Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a brief statement that Japan's reaction to Medvedev's trip to the Kuril Islands was "unacceptable."

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Medvedev is reportedly planning another visit to the islands.

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