Japan-China feud thaws with leaders’ talks


YOKOHAMA: A feud between China and Japan thawed Saturday as their leaders pledged to improve the relationship in their first talks since a territorial dispute erupted two months ago.
Japan said that Prime Minister Naoto Kan had detailed his nation’s “firm stance” on the East China Sea islands at the centre of the feud in his meeting with President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of a Pacific Rim summit. But China’s foreign ministry said that Hu believed the two countries should “follow a road of peace, friendship and cooperation”.
He noted that the two nations are each other’s main trading partner, and said they should deepen cooperation “to jointly contribute to Asia’s revitalization and address global challenges”. “The two sides should… push for China-Japan strategic and mutually beneficial relations to advance on a healthy and stable track,” Hu said according to the ministry statement.
The warm comments were a far cry from the angry rhetoric that has raged between the Asian giants since September, when the feud began, triggering a barrage of protests, snubs and retaliatory economic measures.
Japan’s Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama also said the two sides made significant headway in the meeting.
“We think we took a big step forward in progress in Japan-China relations,” he said on the sidelines of the 21-member Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.
“The two sides agreed that a long-term stable, mutually beneficial relationship should benefit the two countries and is important for the peaceful development of the region,” he told reporters.
In another sign of the thaw, Japanese trade minister Akihiro Ohata said China will speed up exports of rare earth minerals to Japan, following complaints from Tokyo that shipments were stalled amid the territorial row.
Ohata said that Zhang Ping, chairman of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, told him that he had “instructed (officials) to speed up inspections at customs to be more efficient”.
Tokyo’s row with Beijing stems from the arrest of a Chinese trawler captain whose vessel collided with Japanese patrol boats in waters near the disputed island chain – known in China as the Diaoyu Islands.
Prosecutors eventually released the captain, but the dispute still simmers and nationalists in both countries have staged protests, including a demonstration involving a thousand people outside the APEC summit.
Kan met President Barack Obama on Saturday, thanked him for US backing in the dispute with China, and said that the US presence was vital for Asia. Many Asian nations have viewed with alarm China’s newly assertive posture on territorial issues this year, and welcomed Washington’s efforts to re-engage with the region, where it is seen as an important counterbalance.
“I told him that the Japanese people as well as our neighbours recognised that the US military presence is all the more important for the peace and security of this region,” Kan said as he stood alongside Obama.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated last month that the disputed islands fall within the scope of the US-Japan security alliance. China was infuriated, expressing its “serious concern and strong dissatisfaction” over the comments.
Obama has urged the Asian giants to resolve the dispute, which is seen as undermining regional stability. “The United States, China and Japan represent the world’s three largest economies and, thus, we all share an interest in promoting security and prosperity with each other and throughout the region,” he said.
Earlier, US President Barack Obama used the APEC summit to press China on its flood of exports aided by a cheap yuan, but President Hu Jintao said Beijing would make reforms at its own pace.
The competing visions of the two economic giants were laid out a day after the Group of 20 knocked back US proposals for binding targets to address global trade imbalances and curbs on currency manipulation – proposals effectively aimed at China.
Obama also made an appeal to tear down trade barriers as the 21 members of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum kicked off a summit in Japan, clouded by tensions between its biggest economies. Voicing support for an emerging treaty that would group countries on both sides of the Pacific, Obama said that “the security and prosperity of the American people is inextricably linked to the security and prosperity of Asia”.