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Suga denies Xi called Senkakus ‘core interest’

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Tokyo denied Wednesday that Chinese President Xi Jinping termed the Senkaku islets “a core interest” of China in his informal summit with U.S. President Barack Obama last week in California, as Japanese media reported.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga brushed aside the reports during a Wednesday news conference, indicating Tokyo was briefed otherwise by U.S. officials about the Xi-Obama meeting.

Suga did not elaborate, but said Tokyo has maintained “close cooperation with the U.S.” and is aware Xi did not call the Senkakus a core interest of China.

“Our understanding is that the Chinese side did not directly connect the Senkakus to (their) core interests,” Suga said.

The Senkakus are held by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan. The islets have been a major source of diplomatic tension between Beijing and Tokyo.

China usually uses the term “core interest” when addressing such issues as Taiwan, Tibet and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Beijing has vowed to make no concessions on the issues and even does not rule out war to defend them.

In April, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman for the first time described in public the Senkakus as a core interest of the country, causing a stir in Japan.

Later Wednesday, a senior Japanese official said Tokyo had been briefed by the U.S. side over the Xi-Obama meeting before media reports emerged, and is “firmly convinced” Xi did not make such comments.

“I wonder why such reports came out,” the official said.