China's outgoing Foreign Minister has warned Japan to return to the negotiating table to settle its territorial dispute or risk seeing tensions between the two countries spiral out of control.
At a press conference wrapping up China's diplomacy over last year, Yang Jiechi said tensions in the East China Sea had been triggered by Japan's "seizure" of the Diaoyu islands, called the Senkakus by Japan. He urged Tokyo to respect history and told Washington not to interfere in regional affairs.
In a sign that the dispute is still simmering, three Chinese surveillance ships sailed near the disputed islands yesterday, marking the sixth straight day that Chinese vessels have been seen there, the Japanese coastguard said.
"The root cause of the Diaoyu Islands issue is Japan's illegal seizure and occupation of China's territory, and the situation is caused single-handedly by the Japanese side," Yang said.
Japan should "correct its mistakes" and resolve its dispute with China through dialogue to prevent the situation escalating further or "even getting out of control", he said, adding that Japan should be refrained from "inflicting" pain on other Asian nations as it did during the second world war.
Tensions flared last month when Tokyo accused Chinese frigates of locking their fire-control radar on a Japanese destroyer and a military helicopter. China's envoy to Japan, Cheng Yonghua, said at the time that a high-level bilateral summit suggested by an envoy of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was unlikely.
Professor Da Zhigang, an expert in Japanese affairs at the Heilongjiang Academy of Social Sciences, said yesterday that China wanted Japan to resolve the dispute through negotiations, and was unlikely to take tough action against Tokyo. But Abe said the issue was not negotiable after he took office in December.
Yang said yesterday that China's position within Asia Pacific was complicated because of territorial disputes with its neighbours and North Korea's nuclear programme, but welcomed co-operation with the United States.
China and the US had more "converging interests and frequent interactions" in the region, but Washington should respect Beijing's interests, he said. "Asia Pacific affairs should be handled by all countries in the region through consultation."
Yang urged Washington to properly handle Taiwan issues.
"It is more important for China and the US to show big vision and courage to seek common ground while shelving differences," he said.
Yang also rejected accusations by Mandiant, a US cyber-security firm, that the PLA was behind computer hacking of US institutions and corporations.
"We oppose turning cyberspace into a new battlefield, or using the internet as a new tool to interfere in other countries internal affairs," he said.
On North Korea's nuclear issue, Yang said six-party talks were a better way than sanctions to resolve the problem.