Jan. 21 (Bloomberg) -- China criticized Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for saying the U.S. opposes any effort to disrupt Japan’s administration of islands at the heart of a territorial dispute between Asia’s two biggest economies.
Clinton’s comments last week “are ignorant of facts,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said yesterday in comments posted on the ministry’s website. The U.S. can’t be “held hostage” by Japan in the conflict, a commentary in China’s People’s Daily newspaper today said. Three Chinese marine surveillance ships entered Japanese-administered waters today, the Coast Guard said in a statement.
The dispute has escalated in the past month, with both China and Japan dispatching fighter jets to monitor each other’s movements in the area. At a Jan. 18 press conference in Washington with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Clinton expanded on her usual reiteration that the U.S. takes no position on the sovereignty of the uninhabited islands by addressing Japan’s administration of them.
“We acknowledge they are under the administration of Japan and we oppose any unilateral actions that would seek to undermine Japanese administration and we urge all parties to take steps to prevent incidents and manage disagreements through peaceful means,” Clinton said at the press conference.
Her talks with Kishida were the highest level meetings between the two allies since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office last month pledging to boost defense spending in response to China’s claims to the islands, called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese. The conflict has damaged a $340 billion trade relationship and prolonged Japan’s recession, while stoking U.S. concerns of an escalating confrontation.
China expresses “firm discontent,” Qin said. “We urge the U.S. side to adopt a responsible attitude in regard to the issue of the Diaoyu islands.” While Japan won’t make any concessions on the issue, it will “respond calmly” so as not to provoke China, Kishida told reporters after meeting Clinton.
In an unsigned commentary today, the Xinhua News Agency said it was “exceedingly wrong” for Clinton to make the comments about Japan’s administration of the islands.
Before the Kishida-Clinton meeting, China signaled it may be seeking to reduce tensions, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei saying on Jan. 17 that the government attaches “great importance” to its relationship with Japan and wants to resolve the dispute through dialogue.
Abe will send a personal letter to China’s Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping to be carried by Natsuo Yamaguchi, the head of coalition member New Komeito Party, the Nikkei newspaper said yesterday. Yamaguchi will visit China tomorrow and stay until Jan. 25.
Abe visited Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia last week to strengthen bonds with southeast Asian nations, some of which are also involved in territorial disputes with China.
Japan’s national interest lies in keeping Asia’s seas “unequivocally open, free and peaceful,” Abe said in a prepared speech that he was unable to deliver in Jakarta, because he cut short his visit to deal with a hostage crisis in Algeria. Japan’s alliance with the U.S. is vital toward ensuring that freedom, Abe said, according to a Foreign Ministry release of the remarks.
Japan dispatched eight F-15 fighter jets last month after a Chinese plane entered Japanese-controlled airspace around the islands. China sent two J-10 fighter jets to the area on Jan. 10 to monitor two Japanese F-15s that were trailing a Chinese patrol aircraft, the Beijing-based Ministry of Defense said on its website on Jan. 11.
Chinese government ships have repeatedly entered Japanese-administered waters in recent months. The country plans to survey the islands to safeguard China’s maritime rights, Xinhua cited Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong as saying on Jan. 15.
“The security environment in the Asia Pacific region is becoming ever more challenging and difficult,” Kishida said after his meeting with Clinton. The Japan-U.S. alliance must be reinforced “in all areas” to ensure peace in the region.
The U.S. wants to see China and Japan “resolve this matter peacefully through dialogue,” Clinton said after the meeting, according to a State Department transcript.
Clinton said the U.S. applauded the steps already taken by Abe’s government to “reach out and begin discussions” with China. Abe has been invited to Washington in the third week of February to meet with President Barack Obama, she said.
Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said Jan. 17 in Tokyo that the U.S. has “conveyed privately our desire for quiet diplomacy and effective diplomacy to take place.” He spoke after meeting with Foreign Ministry officials.
“We’ve made very clear our desire to see cooler heads prevail and the maintenance of peace and stability,” Campbell told reporters, adding that the U.S. wants Japan to settle a similar feud with South Korea.
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