Japan and China Fail to Ease Tensions Over Island Dispute

Boats From Taiwan and China Near Islands Disputed by Japan
Taiwanese fishing boats head to the disputed East China Sea islands, known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu Islands in Chinese, on September 24, 2012. Photographer: Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images

Diplomats from China and Japan failed to ease tensions over a territorial dispute as the Japanese Coast Guard used water cannons to drive off Taiwanese vessels near the islands at the center of the spat.

Japan’s move this month to buy the islands was “blatantly illegal,” China’s Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun told Japanese counterpart Chikao Kawai today in Beijing, according to a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement. While the two sides agreed to more discussions, Kawai said no consensus was reached to hold a foreign ministers’ meeting this week at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Kyodo News reported.

The meeting was the first since protests in China last week damaged operations for Japanese companies such as Toyota Motor Corp. and Aeon Co. Japan’s purchase of the islands, known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese, exacerbated the worst diplomatic crisis since 2005, which has threatened a $340 billion trade relationship between Asia’s two biggest economies.

About 50 Taiwanese fishing boats and patrol vessels left waters administered by Japan after the Japanese Coast Guard fired water cannons at them this morning, the Coast Guard said in a statement. Five Chinese government boats were also spotted in or near what Japan calls its “contiguous zone,” according to a separate statement.

“We will continue to guard the area around the Senkakus intensely and remain in contact with the relevant agencies,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told reporters today in Tokyo. The clash between the Coast Guard and the Taiwanese boats was broadcast on NHK Television.

Carrier Commissioned

Also today, China formally commissioned its first aircraft carrier at a ceremony in the port city of Dalian that was attended by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. The carrier will enhance China’s war-fighting and defense capabilities and “promote international peace and common development,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

Cheng Yonghua, China’s ambassador to Japan, said today he is “deeply worried” about deteriorating relations and hopes Japan’s government will abide by existing agreements between the two countries.

“We are committed to work to clear the obstacles and keep the healthy development in bilateral relations with all parties concerned,” he said at a banquet being held in Tokyo to commemorate China’s National Day on Oct. 1.

‘Serious Violation’

Separately, Japan’s de facto envoy to Taiwan visited Taipei today to discuss the dispute over the East China Sea islands claimed by all three governments. Tadashi Imai is president of Japan’s Interchange Association, which represents the Japanese government in Taiwan in the absence of formal diplomatic relations.

Fujimura said the situation with Taiwan should be dealt with “calmly” to ensure good relations continue. He said yesterday the government protested “at a high diplomatic level” after Chinese vessels entered the waters.

Zhang told Kawai that Japan had ignored China’s protests in buying the islands, a move he called “a serious violation of historical facts and international jurisprudence,” according to the Foreign Ministry statement.

The last time senior Japanese and Chinese officials met was Sept. 9, when Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda discussed the island issue briefly with Hu on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Vladivostok, Russia. Hu told Noda that any Japanese move to buy the islands would be considered “illegal and invalid,” according to a statement on the Chinese Foreign Ministry website.

Noda’s government reached a deal to purchase the islands from a private Japanese owner on Sept. 11.

— With assistance by Isabel Reynolds, and Aipeng Soo

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