Japan and China meet over island conflct

Sept. 25, 2012 at 6:30 AM
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TOKYO, Sept. 25 (UPI) -- Japan and China are to have high-level talks this week in an effort to avoid confrontation over the Japanese-controlled but disputed Senkaku Islands.

Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Chikao Kawai is in Beijing to meet with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun, Japan's Kyodo news agency reported.

"I will explain Japan's thinking as well as listen to China's thinking" on the South China Sea territorial dispute, Kawai said.

Tensions have remained high, especially after the Japanese government bought three of the five main Senkaku Islands this month from their private Japanese owner as part of a plan to officially nationalize the uninhabited islets.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China will urge Japan to "correct mistakes" it has made over the islands, which are known as Diaoyu in China.

"China will elaborate on its position on the Diaoyu Islands, demand that Japan correct its mistakes and make efforts to improve Sino-Japanese relations," Hong said.

China -- as well as Taiwan -- contests Japan's ownership of the Senkakus and their accompanying rocky outcrops, which are around 100 miles north of Japan's Ishigaki Island and 116 miles northeast of Taiwan.

At the end of World War II in 1945 the islands were under U.S. jurisdiction as part of the captured Japanese island of Okinawa. But they have been under Japanese jurisdiction since 1972 when Okinawa was returned to Japan.

Ownership of the Senkakus, as with other disputed islands in the South China Sea, brings with it rights over the increasingly important oil and natural gas fields on the seabed, as well as fishing rights.

Chinese naval vessels and fishing boats have been making an increasing number of visits to waters near the islands.

Japanese coast guard officials said this week that four Chinese surveillance vessels briefly intruded into Japan's territorial waters near the islands, Kyodo reported.

The Japanese government lodged a formal protest with Beijing over the territorial intrusions, the third intrusion since the government's announcement that it would nationalize the Senkakus on Sept. 11, the Kyodo report said.

But China remains resolute in its stand over the islands.

"Japan must bear full responsibility for all the consequences" of its nationalization of Senkaku Islands, Hong said.

"The two sides should have used this opportunity to push forward bilateral relations.

"However, the Japanese government single-mindedly took the action of illegally purchasing the Diaoyu Islands, which is a gross violation of China's territorial sovereignty and hurt the Chinese people's feelings."

Kyodo also reported that Japan's coast guard this week warned away around 50 Taiwanese fishing boats sailing close to Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands.

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