Japan, China top diplomats discuss island dispute

September 26, 2012 - 1:34 AM

NEW YORK (AP) — The top diplomats of China and Japan went a little way to patching up ties frayed by an island dispute that has sparked violent anti-Japan demonstrations but appeared no closer to resolving their conflicting claims.

China's Yang Jiechi and his Japanese counterpart Koichiro Gemba met Tuesday for about one hour on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly to discuss tensions over the uninhabited islands that are administered by Japan but also claimed by China.

It is the highest-level meeting between the two Asian powers since their long-running dispute flared two weeks ago, after Japan's purchase from a private owner of some of the islands sparked the protests in China. Taiwan has also weighed in, sending dozens of fishing boats to the area on Tuesday.

Japan says the purchase was intended to calm the waters over the Senkakus, known as the Diaoyu in China, not stir them up, after Tokyo's governor announced he wanted to raise funds to not just buy but also develop them.

Sato Masaru, assistant press secretary for Japan's Foreign Ministry, told The Associated Press that the atmosphere at the talks late Tuesday was "serious" but the two sides agreed it was in their mutual interest to strengthen ties.

According to Masaru, Gemba urged restraint by China, citing the damage caused to Japanese nationals and companies in China during the protests. Gemba told Yang that any form of violence could not be tolerated.

Chinese officials could not immediately be reached for comment on the meeting. Masaru said that Yang made China's own detailed case on its claim to the Senkakus.

Notwithstanding their conflicting territorial claims and deep-seated Chinese resentment over Japan's occupation of China before and during World War II, both countries risk an economic fallout from the dispute which they can ill-afford. The annual trade between them totals hundreds of billions of dollars annually.

Earlier Tuesday, senior Foreign Ministry official Naoko Saiki said that compromise will be difficult with China over the islands but the two countries should keep talking.

She asserted Japan's claim to the islands and said the presence of Chinese and Taiwanese vessels nearby risks a "miscalculation" or "accident."

"We don't want to have any wars or battles or use of force. We have to stabilize the situation through dialogue in a peaceful manner, in accordance with international law," Saiki told reporters.

The vice foreign ministers of Japan and China also met in Beijing Tuesday to discuss the issue.