China’s Ex-Envoy to Japan Says U.S. at Fault in Island Dispute

China’s former ambassador to Japan said the U.S. was fomenting a territorial dispute between the two Asian nations as the Obama administration carries out a strategic shift to focus more on the region.

The dispute over islands in the East China Sea is “a time bomb planted by the U.S.,” Chen Jian, who was ambassador to Japan from 1998-2001, said today at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong. He said it’s in the U.S. interest for countries in the region to quarrel.

Japan bought the islands, called Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese, last month, touching off anti-Japan protests across China that strained the two countries’ $340 billion trade relationship. In a visit to the region the same month, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the U.S. pivot toward Asia isn’t meant to provoke a confrontation with China.

Chen is visiting Hong Kong on a trip arranged by China’s foreign ministry, according to a statement on the correspondents’ club website. A former United Nations undersecretary general, he is dean of the school of international studies at Renmin University in Beijing.

The U.S. should push Japan to negotiate with China over the islands, Chen said, adding that leaders in Tokyo and Beijing should come up with a mechanism to avoid an accidental clash. In September, Panetta and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both urged China and other countries to resolve their territorial issues peacefully.

Japan’s Vice Foreign Minister Chikao Kawai met with Chinese officials in Shanghai earlier this month, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said Oct. 24. The two sides have yet to hold formal negotiations over the dispute.

Chen said nationalist politicians in Japan have taken advantage of their country losing its “confidence and direction” in recent years and the island dispute played into their hands.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s administration bought the islands after Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, a China critic, proposed purchasing and developing them.

To contact the reporter on this story: Zijing Wu in London at zwu17@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

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