TERRITORIAL DISPUTE
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Diaoyu Islands

State media doubts Japan's sincerity to ease tension over Diaoyu Islands

Japanese PM's comments have state media doubting Tokyo's sincerity about calming the watersin the row over the Diaoyu Islands

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 January, 2013, 4:58am

Beijing has adopted a cautious approach towards a trip by an envoy of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with state media expressing doubts about Tokyo's sincerity in seeking to ease bilateral tensions triggered by a territorial dispute.

The comment came after Abe said Japan had the right to decide whether to fly military planes over the disputed Diaoyu Islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan, contradicting a proposal by his envoy, Natsuo Yamaguchi, who arrived in Beijing on Tuesday for a four-day visit.

Yamaguchi, head of New Komeito, a member of Japan's coalition government, said before leaving for China that he would propose that military planes from both countries should not get close to the disputed islands and that the territorial dispute be shelved, in addition to handing a letter from Abe to Communist Party chief Xi Jinping .

In an interview with Asahi TV on Tuesday night, Abe said the letter called for more communication between the two countries because bilateral exchanges had deteriorated. But he said Japan would act in accordance with international law when Chinese planes approached the islands, insisting their sovereignty was not disputed.

Abe also accused Beijing of allowing its citizens to attack Japanese businesses and nationals in China to further its political aims. Massive anti-Japanese protests erupted in major cities in mainland China in September, after Japan announced it would buy three of the islands.

A commentary in the overseas edition of the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily yesterday said it was important for Abe to show sincerity.

It said Abe's predecessor, Yoshihiko Noda, had written a letter to President Hu Jintao in August, before deciding to buy the islands.

"The crux of the issue is distrust, and the credibility of Japan in handling international relations," it said. "In the minds of Chinese people, Japan has a serious deficit in this regard. The letter can be the start of ice-breaking in bilateral ties, but it can also be nothing."

Yamaguchi met representatives of Japanese companies in China yesterday and attended a banquet hosted by China-Japan Friendship Association chairman Tang Jiaxuan , a former state councillor.

Today, he may meet Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and Wang Jiarui , director of the party Central Committee's international department. Arrangements for a meeting with a state leader tomorrow were being finalised, but whether Xi would attend was not clear.

A Xinhua report said Yamaguchi's itinerary was still uncertain and it depended on how influential he was in Tokyo's foreign policymaking.

Professor Da Zhigang , from the Heilongjiang Academy of Social Sciences, said Beijing was worried that Abe might not change his tactics towards China after Yamaguchi's trip, and might act tougher when in the United States next month. "The letter is just to test the waters and calm down tensions before Abe goes to the US," he said.