Diaoyu Islands

Beijing visit by Japanese envoy gives chance to repair ties

Japanese diplomat arrives in Beijing for talks likely to touch on Diaoyu Islands as Taiwan rules out cross-strait co-operation in dispute

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 February, 2013, 5:18am

A senior Japanese diplomat arrived in Beijing yesterday for talks aimed at mending strained ties, a day after a Chinese maritime surveillance vessel patrolled within one kilometre of disputed islands in the East China Sea.

Tensions over the disputed Diaoyu Islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan, remain high, with vessels from the mainland, Taiwan and Japan all sailing in waters around them. Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou said yesterday that Taipei would not co-operate with Beijing on the issue.

Japan's coastguard said three Chinese maritime surveillance vessels were in Japan's territorial sea off the disputed islands on Monday. The Yomiuri newspaper reported yesterday that one of the vessels sailed within one kilometre of the disputed islands - the closest a Chinese government vessel has come.

Professor Lian Degui, from the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said Chinese patrols had been stepped up because the authorities in Okinawa had attempted to include the disputed islands on Unesco's World Natural Heritage list.

"But the patrols are becoming regular now and are unlikely to trigger further tensions," he said.

The patrols are becoming regular now and are unlikely to trigger further tensions

China and Japan have shared in angry exchanges in recent months, especially after Tokyo alleged that Chinese frigates used fire-control radar to target a Japanese destroyer and a military helicopter on two occasions last month. Beijing denied the allegations.

But North Korea's nuclear test last week provided grounds for the two nations to co-operate in an effort to exert pressure on Pyongyang.

Shinsuke Sugiyama, head of Asian and Oceanian affairs at Japan's Foreign Ministry, arrived in Beijing yesterday for talks with Chinese officials about the issue.

Sugiyama, whose trip to China in December was cancelled, will today meet Wu Dawei , China's special representative for Korean Peninsula affairs. Analysts expect officials from both sides to also discuss the territorial dispute.

A boat carrying seven Taiwanese activists attempted to sail to the disputed islands last month, prompting speculation about whether the mainland and Taiwan could co-operate to resolve the dispute.

But Taiwan yesterday gave three reasons why co-operation with the mainland was unlikely.

"The fact that the mainland denies the existence of a peace treaty [signed between Taiwan and Japan] has made it impossible for us to have any basis for co-operation with them," Taiwanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Steve Hsia told a press briefing.

In a closed-door meeting with Taiwanese businessmen in Taipei on Monday, Ma cited Beijing's ignorance of his East China Sea peace initiative, which calls for the three claimants to temporarily set aside their dispute to discuss joint exploration of fishing grounds and other resources as another roadblock.

Ma also cited Beijing's opposition to touching on sovereignty during fishery talks between Taiwan and Japan, Taiwan's Central News Agency reported.

The peace settlement between Taiwan and Japan - known as the Treaty of Taipei and sternly rejected by Beijing - was signed on April 28, 1952.

Japan was under stiff US pressure to sign the pact with the Republic of China (ROC) - Taiwan's official name - and end the conflict after the second world war. Although Japan gave up many territorial claims in the treaty, Tokyo abrogated the document when re-establishing ties with Beijing in 1972.

Japan has also agreed to conclude as soon as possible a deal providing for the regulation of fishing and the conservation of fisheries on the high seas.

Hsia said the treaty was "a very important legal basis for us to firmly claim that the Diaoyu Islands group is part of the territory of the ROC".