x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Japan sticks to its guns over islands

Japan is refusing to budge over a dispute with China regarding a group of uninhabited islands.

Japan is refusing to budge over a dispute with China regarding a group of uninhabited islands.

Fumio Kishida, the Japanese foreign minster said his country would not make any concessions to China, during his first visit to Washington since Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, took office last month.

"Japan will not concede," Mr Kishida said after a meeting with Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state. Japan will "uphold our fundamental position that the Senkakus [islands] are an inherent territory of Japan." The government will "respond calmly" so as not to provoke China, he said.

The United States wants to see China and Japan "resolve this matter peacefully through dialogue," Mrs Clinton said after the meeting, according to the state department. "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."

Mr Abe is boosting defence spending in response to China's increasingly assertive claims to the uninhabited Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea, called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese. The conflict has damaged a US$340 billion (Dh1.24 trillion) trade relationship and prolonged Japan's recession, while stoking US concerns of an escalating confrontation.

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

Mrs Clinton said the US applauded the steps already taken by Mr Abe's government to "reach out and begin discussions" with China. Mr Abe has been invited to Washington in the third week of next month to meet Barack Obama, the US president, Mrs Clinton said.

"It is extremely important that the US-Japan alliance runs smoothly," said Tsuneo Watanabe, the director of policy research at the Tokyo Foundation. "America is concerned about getting caught up in the China-Japan dispute, so Japan will be offering reassurances that this won't happen." Kurt Campbell, the US assistant secretary of state, said last week the US had "conveyed privately our desire for quiet diplomacy and effective diplomacy to take place".

"We've made very clear our desire to see cooler heads prevail and the maintenance of peace and stability," Mr Campbell said, adding the US wanted Japan to settle a similar feud with South Korea.

China signalled it may be seeking to reduce tensions over the issue. Hong Lei, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, last week said China attached "great importance" to its relationship with Japan and wanted to resolve the dispute through dialogue, while reiterating Chinese sovereignty over the islands.

"I was pleased to see this toned- down rhetoric though think it is too soon to jump to any conclusions that this is the beginning of a more constructive approach," said Paul Haenle, who served as the China director at the National Security Council for the George W Bush and Obama administrations and is now the director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy in Beijing.

Mr Abe has called China "an essential partner for economic growth" while insisting there is no question of sovereignty over the islands. The US, while saying it took no position on the sovereignty issue, has repeatedly said the islands fell under its mutual defence treaty with Japan.

* with Bloomberg News