Diaoyu Islands

China's foreign minister tells UN Japan is stealing Diaoyu islands

Foreign minister denounces Tokyo's attempt to purchase islands as official says Sino-Japanese ties could 'sink like the Titanic' over dispute

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 September, 2012, 3:44am

Sino-Japanese ties could soon "sink like the Titanic" a senior Foreign Ministry official warned yesterday as Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi denounced Tokyo's East China Sea actions during a fiery speech at the UN.

The latest volley in the escalating war of words between Beijing and Tokyo came the day before the two former wartime foes had planned to celebrate 40 years of normalised diplomatic relations.

In fact, it was at a seminar to mark the occasion that Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Le Yucheng compared Japan's attempt to purchase the Diaoyu Islands to the iceberg that sunk the famous liner a century ago.

"It caused bilateral ties to suffer a serious setback," said Le, who advised Tokyo to abandon the "unrealistic idea" that it can possess the islands and that sending a few envoys to Beijing would soothe tensions.

Xu Dunxin , a former Chinese ambassador to Japan who also attended the seminar in Beijing, warned that if Japan resorts to military force to resolve the dispute, "China will respond to the provocative act, and Chinese solders are tough."

The strongly worded statements came after the Chinese foreign minister used his speech before the UN General Assembly in New York to accuse Tokyo of stealing the islands, which are known as the Senkakus in Japan. He called Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's efforts to purchase three of the five islands "illegal and invalid".

"China strongly urges Japan to immediately stop all activities that violate China's territorial sovereignty," Yang said. "They can in no way change the historical fact that Japan stole Diaoyu and its affiliated islands from China and the fact that China has territorial sovereignty over them."

Yang reiterated Beijing's claim that the islands have been part of Chinese territory since ancient times and were seized by Japan at the end of the first Sino-Japanese war in 1895. Tokyo's attempt to nationalise the isles was an "outright denial" of its defeat in the second world war, he said.

The deputy Japanese UN Ambassador, Kazuo Kodama, said that "an assertion that Japan took the islands from China cannot logically stand". Kodama called Yang's references to the second world war "unconvincing and unproductive".

Earlier in the day, Yang met the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who urged that "cooler heads prevail" and advocated for a peaceful resolution to the dispute between the two countries, a senior US State Department official told the Associated Press.

Neither Beijing nor Tokyo appeared interested in backing down just yet, as China's UN envoy, Li Baodong , fired back at Kodama.

"The Japanese delegate once again brazenly distorted history, resorting to spurious, fallacious arguments that defy all reason and logic to justify their aggression on Chinese territory," Agence France-Presse reported Li as saying. He said Kodama "feels no guilt for Japan's history of aggression and colonialism."

In an ominous turn, an envelope containing a "rifle-bullet-looking object" arrived at the Chinese embassy in Tokyo on Thursday morning, the Chinese embassy confirmed in a statement. The sender gave the name Yoshihiko Noda.