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The European Union inquired Wednesday about recent developments between Japan and China as bilateral tensions continue to rise over the Sept. 7 ship collisions in the East China Sea, Japanese officials said.

Catherine Ashton, EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, asked Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara about developments since the collisions, which allegedly took place near a set of disputed islands near Okinawa that are administered by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan. The two met on the sidelines of U.N. meetings in New York.

Maehara, who last week inspected the two Japan Coast Guard patrol boats involved in the collisions with a Chinese trawler, explained Japan’s position to Ashton, the officials said.

The Japan Coast Guard arrested the captain of the Chinese fishing boat Sept. 8 on a charge of obstructing the official duties of coast guard personnel. The Japanese authorities allege the skipper deliberately rammed one of the coast guard boats.

The arrest sparked protests from China, which has repeatedly called for the captain’s immediate release, and led to cancellations of travel, concerts and other cultural and governmental exchanges between the two countries.

Maehara has said Japan will continue to deal with the incident according to domestic law and seek a “calm” response from China.

Maehara, who assumed his post Sept. 17, also expressed eagerness to launch negotiations aimed at signing a free-trade agreement between Japan and the 27-nation European bloc, according to the officials.

He also met Wednesday with his counterparts from Mexico, Pakistan, South Africa and Turkey.

Maehara agreed with Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa that their countries will cooperate with each other for success at upcoming U.N. conferences on preserving biological diversity in Japan and tackling climate change in Mexico, the Japanese officials said.

Espinosa, who will chair the key U.N. climate talks in November and December in Cancun, pointed to the importance of deepening discussions on a specific scheme for each country to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the officials said.

Maehara said Japan aims to agree on a fair and effective new international framework for curbing global warming that all the major emitters will participate in, and to adopt a legal document on that framework as soon as possible.

Japan will host a U.N. conference on biodiversity next month in Nagoya.

They also discussed reform of the U.N. Security Council and agreed that the current membership doesn’t reflect the realities of the international community.

Espinosa asked Maehara to visit Mexico at an early date to further deepen the bilateral relationship, according to the officials.

Maehara agreed with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi that Japan and Pakistan will continue to work together closely on counterterrorism measures.

The Pakistani minister expressed gratitude for Japan’s assistance to flood victims in his country, including the dispatch of a Self-Defense Forces helicopter unit and medical workers.

In talks with South African International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Maehara said Japan is ready to offer technical cooperation on projects to build basic infrastructure in the African nation, such as a high-speed railway and nuclear power plant.

They agreed to promote exchanges of visits by high-level officials and to bolster efforts to enhance bilateral trade and investment, according to the officials.

Maehara and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu agreed the two countries will cooperate over support for Afghanistan, as Japan plans to help Turkey train Afghan police by providing financial aid and dispatching experts.

New antinuke group

NEW YORK (Kyodo) Japan, Australia and eight other nonnuclear states launched a group Wednesday to promote nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation as a step toward the eventual abolition of all nuclear weapons.

Foreign ministers and other representatives from the 10 countries expressed their resolve in a joint statement to “work together on concrete and practical measures for a world of decreased nuclear risk as a milestone on our path toward realizing a world without nuclear weapons.”

The meeting of the new group, cohosted by Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara and his Australian counterpart Kevin Rudd, drew participants from Canada, Chile, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. The gathering was held on the sidelines of U.N. General Assembly meetings in New York.

Maehara told a joint news conference following the inaugural meeting that the 10 members will urge nuclear states to further reduce their arsenals.

“Through such efforts, we can maintain the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty regime, which has been weakened. We will tenaciously work toward our ultimate goal” of abolishing nuclear weapons, Maehara said.

Rudd said there are an estimated 23,000 nuclear weapons in the world and that the members of the new group “all want an immediate reduction of the world’s nuclear arsenals” and “measures to ensure no more countries acquire nuclear weapons.”

He said he believes the group, with its wide representation, can use its “common voice” to put pressure on countries such as North Korea and Iran, which have been under fire for their nuclear programs.

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