NEW YORK (AP) — Chinese government vessels are still intruding into Japanese territorial waters around contested islands, but the door to dialogue with Beijing is always open, Japan’s prime minister said Friday.
The Asian powers’ conflicting claims to the remote islands, called Senkaku by Japan and Diaoyu by China, have badly strained relations. China says it, too, is ready to talk, but only if Japan formally acknowledges disputed sovereignty.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Japan would make no concession on sovereignty over the Japanese-administered islands. But he said Japan does not intend to escalate the issue. He emphasized the importance of ties between the world’s second-and third-largest economies.
“The door to dialogue is always open, and I really hope that the Chinese side will take a similar attitude and have the same mindset,” Abe told a news conference after attending the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations.
The standoff over the islands intensified last September, after Japan’s government bought three of the five unoccupied islands in the chain from a private owner. Japan portrayed the purchase as an attempt to block a proposal from a nationalist politician to buy and develop the islands, but the move deeply angered China, which says the islands have been theirs since ancient times.
That sparked a direct and angry exchange between China and Japan at last year’s General Assembly, but this year, the tone was mild, with brief and indirect references to territorial disputes.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the world body Friday that China wants to resolve its territorial and maritime disputes through negotiation with “countries directly involved.” It also has conflicting claims with Southeast Asian nations in the South China Sea.
“Those disputes that cannot be resolved now can be shelved for future resolution. This is our consistent position and practice,” Wang said. “On the other hand, we will, under whatever circumstances, firmly safeguard China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Abe did not mention China in his address Thursday to the General Assembly, but said “changes to the maritime order through use of force or coercion cannot be condoned.”
Also Friday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to move swiftly to reach a code of conduct for the South China Sea for addressing disputes “without threats, without coercion and without use of force.”
Beijing has been reticent to negotiate with a regional bloc, though consultations with ASEAN on a code were held in China recently after years of delay.
Speaking with The Associated Press at the U.N. on Thursday, Foreign Minister Marty Natelegawa of Indonesia, the largest country in ASEAN, said there was broad consensus on the goals for a legally binding code, but he declined to set a deadline for completing it.
He said nations are discussing preliminary steps to build confidence, like setting up communication hotlines to cope with security incidents.
China claims most of the South China Sea, which is a critical conduit for world trade and potentially rich in oil and gas. China’s assertive behavior at sea in recent years has irked its neighbors. Other claimants include Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
Without specifying any country, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung spoke in stark terms Friday about the territorial disputes in the South and East China seas. “Just one single incident or ill-conceived act could trigger conflict, even war,” he told the General Assembly.
Over the past year, Japan’s coast guard says there have been scores of intrusions by Chinese vessels into Japanese-claimed waters near the islands in the East China Sea.
“The incursion by Chinese government vessels in our territorial waters is continuing, much to our regret,” Abe said Friday through an interpreter. “We have been dealing with this issue calmly and resolutely, and we shall continue to do so.”
The United States is concerned about the standoff. As a treaty ally of Japan, it could be sucked in if a conflict broke out.