VLADIVOSTOCK, RUSSIA // The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, urged Japan and South Korea to cool tempers in their showdown over contested islands, as part of a wider effort by the US to defuse rising regional tensions stoked by maritime disputes.
"I raised these issues with both of them," Mrs Clinton said yesterday after meeting the Japanese prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, and the South Korean president, Lee Myung Bak, at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit. She said she told the countries' leaders "that their interests really lie in making sure that they lower the temperature and work together in a concerted way to have a calm and restrained approach".
Noda didn't have bilateral meetings with the leaders of South Korea or China at the summit, only holding brief discussions with Lee and president Hu Jintao of China, with which Japan also has a dispute. A spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, Qin Gang, said September 8 that Japan should "pay attention" to his country's resolve to safeguard its sovereignty.
Mrs Clinton, who yesterday wrapped up a six-nation, 11-day tour, has tried to douse a diplomatic showdown between US allies Japan and South Korea, as well as conflicts in the South China Sea, through which half of the world's commercial cargo flows. The escalating tensions, which come ahead of leadership changes in Japan, South Korea and China, have hurt Japanese companies such as Nissan Motor Co doing business in China.
Mr Noda tried to dial back tensions at the summit, saying he had told Mr Hu and Mr Lee in their informal meetings that it was important to preserve and deepen ties. Mr Noda said he also told Mr Lee that ties between their countries were important because of the threat posed by North Korea.
The dispute with South Korea reignited after Mr Lee made a surprise August 10 visit to the islets, known as Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese, which Mr Noda called "unacceptable."
China has condemned Japan's plan to buy islands, known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese, lying in the East China Sea near oil and gas reserves. Mr Noda's government is in talks to purchase the islands from a private Japanese owner.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, host of the APEC summit this year, said his country wants to resolve a territorial dispute with Japan over islands claimed by both nations. He and Mr Noda agreed to have officials meet later this year to discuss rights to the islands.