Diaoyu Islands

Japanese envoy Yamaguchi offers to shelve dispute over Diaoyus

Japanese representative arrives in Beijing on mission to 'normalise ties' and plans to hand letter from premier Shinzo Abe to Xi Jinping

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 January, 2013, 9:50am

A special envoy of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived in Beijing yesterday, holding out an olive branch in an effort to ease tensions triggered by a territorial dispute in the East China Sea.

Natsuo Yamaguchi, head of the Japanese coalition partner New Komeito, proposed shelving the dispute over the Diaoyu Islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan. He plans to hand a letter from Abe to president-in-waiting Xi Jinping.

"I will make my trip the first step for opening the doors to normalise our bilateral ties," Yamaguchi said on Monday before leaving Japan, Kyodo News reported.

"Leaving the solution of the dispute to future generations is a way to avoid contingencies for the time being. Japan and China have conflicting positions. There is no solution to the matter by meeting force with force based on such claims."

During his four-day stay in Beijing, Yamaguchi will meet former state councillor Tang Jiaxuan , now chairman of the China-Japan Friendship Association, and the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei declined to say who Yamaguchi would meet, but added that dialogue was useful.

"This facilitates both sides to step up communications, settle disputes and promote healthy bilateral ties," Hong said.

State-run China Central Television made Yamaguchi's arrival the lead item in its noon newscast, suggesting the importance Beijing is attaching to the visit.

But the report also said Abe had adopted a hardline approach towards Beijing and his letter may be an attempt to test China's bottom line over the islands.

Shigeru Ishiba, secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party, the main party in Japan's coalition government, said there was no question of shelving the dispute.

"Even though late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping had suggested shelving the disputes, the Japanese government has never agreed," Kyodo News quoted Ishiba as saying.

Beijing and Tokyo have been locked in a row over the islands since September, with both sides sending military planes into nearby airspace, sparking fears of armed confrontation. A Chinese patrol vessel was seen near the island on Monday and yesterday, the Japan coastguard said.

Ruan Zongze , vice-president of the China Institute of International Studies, said Beijing aimed to resolve the dispute through peaceful means, but what Japan had done amounted to "more than a territorial dispute with China".

He said: "Today, it will jeopardise China's sovereignty and territorial integrity. Tomorrow, it will do the same to yours if left unchecked."