WASHINGTON – China says it is ready to talk to Japan over the increasingly heated Senkakus territorial clash, but only if Tokyo declares the islets to be in dispute.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi faced questions about Beijing’s ties with the top U.S. ally in Asia at an event Friday in Washington, where he called for mutual respect in relations between the United States and a growing China.
Wang laid blame for the current tensions on Japan, which in September 2012 effectively nationalized the Senkaku Islands, claimed as Diaoyu by China and Tiaoyutai by Taiwan. Japan administers the uninhabited chain.
“In spite of this, we are still ready to sit down and have a dialogue with the Japanese to work out jointly a way to manage the current situation,” Wang said at the Brookings Institution.
“But first, Japan needs to recognize that there is such a dispute. The whole world knows that there is a dispute,” he added. “I believe there will be a day when the Japanese come back to the table of dialogue.”
Japan, which has exerted control over the isles since the late 1800s and denies their sovereignty is in dispute, contends that China has no historical basis to claim them and charges that Beijing is trying to challenge Tokyo’s rule through military intimidation.
The Japan Coast Guard reported Thursday that two Chinese ships entered waters near the islands — the latest of dozens of Chinese incursions into the area, which drew China’s attention in the early 1970s after studies showed it was potentially rich in energy resources.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who met briefly this month with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a Group of 20 summit in Russia, called for improving relations between Asia’s two largest economies.
But the nationalistic Abe has also pledged to take a firm line on defending Japan’s sovereignty and has moved to step up defense spending and cooperation with the United States.
The previous Democratic Party of Japan-led government bought three of the main Senkaku islets from their private owner to ward off a similar plan by the more provocative and right-wing Shintaro Ishihara, then mayor of Tokyo.
The United States says it takes no position on the ultimate sovereignty of the islet chain but considers it to be under the jurisdiction of Japan, meaning Washington would be obligated to defend the territory under the terms of the bilateral security treaty.
“For many of us, it has been very upsetting to see the world’s second- and third-largest economies have their relationship become tense and deteriorate over what, to many of us on the outside, appear to be four uninhabited and uninhabitable rocks,” Jeff Bader, who served as U.S. President Barack Obama’s top adviser on Asia from 2009 to 2011, told Wang as he moderated the event in Washington.
In his remarks, Wang returned to the idea of a “new model of major country relationship” between China and the United States — also a theme for Xi when he met with Obama at California’s Sunnylands resort in June.
Wang said China and the United States “should genuinely respect and accommodate each other’s concerns and interests (in the Asia-Pacific region).”
“We have never thought about pushing the U.S. out of the region,” he said. “Rather, we hope the United States will play a positive role in safeguarding peace, stability and development in the Asia-Pacific.”
He also said he spoke to U.S. officials about setting up a “reasonable threshold” for the resumption of long-stalled talks on ending North Korea’s nuclear program. Wang highlighted comments last week by North Korea’s chief negotiator, Kim Kye Gwan, who said in Beijing that Pyongyang was ready to resume the six-nation talks on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula “without preconditions.”
“I believe our two countries, China and the United States, are in agreement on the goals of denuclearization and resolving this issue through dialogue,” Wang said.
But American officials have been skeptical of overtures by North Korea, which carried out a third nuclear test in February in defiance even of China, its primary ally. U.S. think tanks said that, based on satellite images, North Korea may have recently restarted its main plutonium reactor.