x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

China rejects US offer on disputed islands

Beijing has rebuffed an offer from the United States to host talks centred on the dispute with Japan over islands in the East China Sea.

BEIJING // China yesterday rebuffed a United States offer to host talks centred on the dispute with Japan over islands in the East China Sea.

Beijing described the US stance on the islands as "absolutely wrong", its latest rejection of attempts by Washington to mediate in regional territorial disputes.

While the US yesterday repeated its offer to host talks, analysts said China would be in a "one against two" situation if it took part.

The islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China and also claimed by Taiwan, sparked a row last month when Japan held a Chinese trawlerman after his boat rammed two of its coastguard vessels in nearby waters.

The Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu yesterday said "it is absolutely wrong for the United States to repeatedly claim" the islands come within the remit of a 1960 US-Japan security alliance requiring the US to defend Japan when its territory is attacked.

"What the United States should do is to immediately correct its wrong position," the state-run Xinhua news agency quoted Mr Ma as saying.

He said it was "only the thinking of the US side" that there could be trilateral talks to resolve the dispute over the islands' sovereignty.

"The territorial dispute over the islands is an issue between China and Japan," Mr Ma added.

In the wake of last month's dispute over the islands, Japanese-Chinese relations plunged to their lowest point for several years and nationalist anger flared in both countries.

At a regional summit in Vietnam over the weekend, talks between Japan and China aimed at easing tensions descended into another series of angry public exchanges.

The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said Washington was prepared to host trilateral talks to resolve the dispute. She also said the US-Japan security treaty applied to the islands.

Yesterday, in the face of Beijing's rejection of the talks proposal, Mrs Clinton repeated the offer and said discussions should cover wider issues.

"There are many issues that need to be discussed, that I hope Japan and China will find an appropriate format in which to do so," she said.

"We will continue to maintain our position that we take no approach towards sovereignty over the islands but our interpretation of our security alliance with Japan has been consistent over many decades now."

Mrs Clinton's offer of talks is the latest of a series of moves by the US to stress its interest in mediating disputes in the region.

In October, the US secretary of defence, Robert Gates, said Washington had "long-term interests" in the region and would seek to be "an active participant" in security issues.

Mr Gates's comments, made in Hanoi, were seen as being aimed at reassuring the several Asian countries that have disputes with China over maritime territory. Many analysts have perceived a growing regional assertiveness from China as its economic strength funds the continued growth of its naval forces.

Beijing has insisted solutions must be thrashed out bilaterally with each of its much smaller neighbours, rather than through the involvement of the US and the Association of South-east Asian Nations.

In addition to its dispute with Japan in the East China Sea, China has conflicting claims with the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei over parts of the South China Sea, the whole of which Beijing claims as its own.

Many of the competing claims in both seas centre on energy-rich territory, while fishing rights and shipping lanes also loom large.

Beijing was similarly dismissive of an offer Mrs Clinton made in July for the US to mediate in the South China Sea.

It has also protested over joint US-South Korean naval exercises earlier this year.

According to Wong Yiuchung, a professor in the department of political science at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, China "never totally trusts" the US, with many in the country thinking Washington is "trying to contain China".

"China is very afraid that the USA will be in alliance with Japan to pressurise China," he added.

"I think if talks started, China would be in a very unfavourable position: one against two."



* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse