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TOKYO: Japan’s foreign minister yesterday vowed continued dialogue with China over a blistering territorial dispute, but warned there were limits on how far Tokyo would go to compromise.
Koichiro Gemba welcomed the meeting of senior officials from the Japanese and Chinese foreign ministries in Tokyo on Thursday, at which the two agreed a vice ministerial-level meeting should be held.
“Both Japan and China need to think calmly about what to do... even if it takes some time,” Gemba told reporters. “I regard Thursday’s meeting as part of the idea. We are continuing communications.”
But, Gemba added: “It’s not easy. The important thing is that we cannot give over what we cannot give over.”
Asia’s two largest economies are at loggerheads over the sovereignty of an uninhabited, but possibly resource-rich island chain in the East China Sea.
Asked when the planned vice ministerial meeting would be held, Gemba said things were being arranged, but added: “It will take place, that’s for sure.”
Gemba said that on his upcoming tour of European countries he would be pushing Tokyo’s case with international partners.
“Relations between Japan and China have a very big impact on not only peace and security in East Asia but also the entire global economy,” said Gemba, who will visit Britain, France and Germany from October 15 to October 20.
“As a matter of course, I am supposed to explain about our country’s position” over the dispute, Gemba said.
Thursday’s ministerial meeting came the day IMF chief Christine Lagarde said China would “lose out” by not sending its two top economic figures to global talks in Japan this week.
Their withdrawal from the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank has been interpreted as the latest sign of the high tensions between Beijing and Tokyo.
The islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan and Diaoyus in China, are administered by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing.
The dispute, which has rumbled for decades, flared in August and September with landings by nationalists from both sides and the subsequent nationalisation of the islands by Tokyo.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda declared late September that his country would not compromise on the islands, saying they were “an inherent part of our territory in light of history and also under international law”. On the other hand, the Chinese state media has said the islands have been China’s territory since ancient times.
Sino-Japanese relations deteriorated sharply after Japan bought the East China Sea islets that both Tokyo and Beijing claim, sparking anti-Japanese protests across China. Japan bought the islands from their Japanese private owner to stop Tokyo’s governor of getting it first.
Since then, China has sent surveillance ships into what Japan considers its territorial waters near the disputed islands, prompting Japan to lodge protests against China. Protests over the sea row also hurt the economic ties of the two countries.