China Seeks Peaceful End to Island Dispute as Japan Pledges Calm

China said it wants to settle territorial issues peacefully as Japan pledged to respond with calm in their dispute over islands both nations claim in the East China Sea.

Disputes should be resolved through discussions, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in comments posted on the ministry’s website yesterday.

While Japan won’t make any concessions over the islands, it will “respond calmly” so as not to provoke China, Fumio Kishida, the new Japanese foreign minister, said Jan. 18 after talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took office last month, is boosting defense spending in response to China’s increasingly assertive claims to the uninhabited Japanese-controlled 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.

Japan’s national interest lies in keeping Asia’s seas “unequivocally open, free and peaceful,” Abe said in a speech, which he was unable to deliver in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, because he cut short his visit on Jan. 18.

The seas must be “governed by laws and rules and not by might,” Abe said, according to an e-mailed transcript of the prepared speech, issued by Japan’s Foreign Ministry.

U.S. Alliance

Japan’s alliance with the U.S. is vital toward ensuring that freedom, Abe said. The 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes Indonesia, is an essential linchpin to Japan’s diplomatic strategy, he added.

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.

“We hope that Japan will follow the historical trend, take responsibility and make efforts toward stability and development in Asia” China’s Qin said in his comments yesterday in response to a question from an unidentified journalist about Abe’s remarks in Jakarta.

China signaled it may be seeking to reduce tensions over the issue. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei on Jan. 17 said China attaches “great importance” to its relationship with Japan and wants to resolve the dispute through dialogue, while reiterating Chinese sovereignty over the islands.

Abe has called China “an essential partner for economic growth” while insisting there is no question of sovereignty over the islands. The U.S., while saying that it takes no position on the sovereignty issue, has repeatedly said the islands fall under its mutual defense treaty with Japan.

Fighter Jets

Japan dispatched eight F-15 fighter jets last month after a Chinese plane entered Japanese-controlled airspace around the islands. 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, the official Xinhua News Agency cited Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong as saying on Jan. 15.

The U.S. wants to see China and Japan “resolve this matter peacefully through dialogue,” Clinton said after meeting with Kishida, according to a State Department transcript. “We want to see the new leaders, both in Japan and in China, get off to a good start with each other in the interest of the security of the entire region.”

Washington Visit

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, Clinton said.

“The security environment in the Asia Pacific region is becoming ever more challenging and difficult,” Kishida said after his meeting. The Japan-U.S. alliance must be reinforced “in all areas” to ensure peace in the region.

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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