A former Chinese ambassador to Japan has accused the United States of using China's territorial disputes to expand its own influence in the region.
Chen Jian, who was posted in Tokyo between 1998 and 2001, said yesterday that the US had been "exploiting contradictions among countries of the region" as tensions run high between China and its neighbours, especially Japan, with which Beijing contests islands in the East China Sea.
"It is no longer a secret that it is in the US interest for countries in this region to quarrel with China, but not to fight with China," Chen, who is dean of Renmin University's school of international relations, said during a talk at the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Hong Kong.
His remarks come amid continued sabre-rattling between Beijing and Tokyo over control of the Diaoyu Islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan. The long-running row boiled over last month after Japan's prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, announced his government's purchase of the islands from their private Japanese owner.
Yesterday four China marine surveillance ships were again spotted near the islands. The State Oceanic Administration said they were carrying out "expulsion measures" against nearby Japan Coast Guard ships.
One of the ships displayed an electronic message board informing the Japanese ships they were in China's territorial waters and ordering them to leave, Kyodo News reported. A Japan Coast Guard spokesman said ships from each side flashed signs at the other demanding they leave.
Beijing argues that Tokyo took the islands, along with Taiwan, during the first Sino-Japanese war in 1895 and should have returned them after losing the second world war. Tokyo contends its claim to the islands pre-dates the earlier war.
Chen blamed the US, which administered the Diaoyus for a quarter century after the second world war, for setting a "time bomb" in 1971, when it handed control over the islands to Japan. Washington was now using the resulting tension to aid its military "pivot" towards the region.
"Japan is now being used by the US as a strategic point for its return to Asia," Chen said. "The US is urging Japan to play a greater role in the region in security terms, not just in economic terms, which suit the purpose of right-wing groups in Japan."
He said the US was trying to restrain China's growing influence and warned Beijing to be cautious because the perceived backing from Washington could cause some countries to "carry their quarrel with China too far".
Last month US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called for "cooler heads" on both sides to seek a peaceful resolution to the dispute. Last year she said the US backed a three-way meeting between Beijing, Tokyo and Washington.
Chen said the US should put more distance between itself and Japan and press Tokyo to come to the negotiating table. Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba said yesterday that Japan wanted a peaceful resolution.
Chen also said it would be "unwise" for Japanese politicians to further provoke China. He said that Beijing was doing enough to protect the nation's sovereignty, but called for continued communication between the two sides to prevent an inadvertent clash.