Chinese government vessels were still intruding into Japanese territorial waters around contested islands, but the door to dialogue with Beijing was always open, Japan's prime minister said yesterday.
The Asian powers' conflicting claims to the remote islands, called Senkaku by Japan and Diaoyu by China, have badly strained relations. China says it, too, is ready to talk, but only if Japan formally acknowledges disputed sovereignty.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Japan would make no concession on sovereignty over the Japanese-administered islands.
But he said Japan does not intend to escalate the issue, and both nations have the responsibility to maintain regional peace. He said the relationship with China was one of Japan's most important, and they have "inseparable" economic ties.
"The door to dialogue is always open, and I really hope that the Chinese side will take a similar attitude and have the same mindset," Abe told a news conference after attending the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations. He said their differences warrant "a good discussion among high-ranking officers of both governments."
The standoff over the islands intensified last September, after Japan's government bought three of the five unoccupied islands in the chain from a private owner. Japan portrayed the purchase as an attempt to block a proposal from a nationalist politician to buy and develop the islands, but the move deeply angered China, which says the islands have been theirs since ancient times.
Abe did not mention China in his address on Thursday to the General Assembly, but said "changes to the maritime order through use of force or coercion cannot be condoned."
Over the past year, Japan's coastguard says there have been scores of intrusions by Chinese vessels into Japanese-claimed waters near the islands.
"The incursion by Chinese government vessels in our territorial waters is continuing, much to our regret," Abe said yesterday.
The latest incident came yesterday when Chinese ships sailed through the disputed waters, Japan's coastguard said, before leaving the zone about three hours later. It was the first such incident reported in eight days.