Latest update: 30/10/2010
Japan and China talk off-pitch at regional summit
Japan's PM Naoto Kan (right) and Chinese premier Wen Jiabao (left) held an informal meeting on Saturday on the first day of the annual ASEAN summit to defuse a diplomatic row between the two countries over maritime law.
By News Wires (text)
REUTERS - The premiers of China and Japan met on the sidelines of an Asian regional summit in a bid to defuse a territorial dispute on Saturday, while the United States urged Asia's two big economies to cool the standoff.
On Friday, initial expectations of a bilateral talk between Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan were dashed at the last minute, when China cancelled the meeting and blamed Japan for "damaging the atmosphere" at the Asia-Pacific summit in Hanoi by raising the issue of the disputed Diaoyu islands, called the Senkaku islands in Japanese.
A Japanese official, however, said the two leaders subsequently held an "informal" 10-minute meeting on the sidelines of the summit early on Saturday morning in a seemingly positive step after the diplomatic row.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who met her Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, in Hanoi, said both sides should remain calm.
"We have made very clear to both sides that we want the temperature to go down," a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters after the meeting.
Clinton, in Vietnam for the first U.S. participation in an East Asia Summit (EAS), also sought clarification about China's policy on exporting rare earth minerals and got assurances from Yang that China wished to be a "reliable supplier" of rare earth minerals, added the U.S. official.
The United States has stepped up Asian diplomacy under the Obama administration and is worried about being excluded from groupings such as the EAS as China expands its diplomatic and economic presence.
But the summit this year, the fifth since the group's founding in 2005, has been overshadowed by the row over maritime claims which has strained ties between Asia's two biggest economies.
"The United States has a national interest in the freedom of navigation and unimpeded lawful commerce. And when disputes arise over maritime territory, we are committed to resolving them peacefully based on customary international law," Clinton said in remarks prepared for delivery at the summit.
Both China and Japan claim sovereignty over the isles.
Relations between China and Japan deteriorated last month with the detention of a Chinese fishing boat captain by the Japanese coast guard after their boats collided near the islands.
The renewed row will have hit close to home for several of the leaders meeting in Hanoi at an Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit with its dialogue partners, and one Southeast Asian diplomat said it had caused unease.
"You can feel the tension between China and Japan," said the diplomat. "No one wants to take sides."
Four ASEAN members -- Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam -- have long-running disagreements with Beijing over parts of the South China Sea, and have expressed concern over China's growing assertiveness over its claims.
In July, China reacted with vitriol when nearly half of the participants at a regional security meeting of foreign ministers under the ASEAN banner, including Clinton, raised concerns about maritime security and the South China Sea.
On Friday in Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley addressed the China-Japan row directly, saying the United States expected the two sides to resolve the issue via dialogue.
The United States and Russia on Saturday formally join the 16-member East Asia Summit.
There has also been worry about Chinese restrictions on the export of rare earth minerals, vital for making high-tech goods and over which China has a near-monopoly on global production.
China has given an assurance it wanted to continue providing the minerals, and to do so in a sustainable way that would not violate World Trade Organisation rules, a Japanese official said on Friday.
Clinton also raised the issue in her talks with her Chinese counterpart.
"Secretary Clinton sought clarification on the Chinese government's policy on the export of rare earth minerals and received assurances," said a U.S. official, who declined to be identified.