Clinton urges Japan-China calm
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton urged China and Japan today to let "cool heads" prevail in a festering dispute over a cluster of East China Sea islands.
Hours later, however, Chinese and Japanese diplomats traded barbs at the United Nations.
Mrs Clinton met Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on the sidelines of this week's UN General Assembly meeting in New York and said it was important to ratchet down the quarrel over the islands that has soured ties between Asia's two largest economies, a senior State Department official said.
The uninhabited islets, whose nearby waters are thought to hold potentially rich natural gas reserves, are known as the Diaoyu islands in China and the Senkaku islands in Japan. They have been under Japan's control since 1895.
"The secretary . . . again urged that cooler heads prevail, that Japan and China engage in dialogue to calm the waters," the official told reporters.
"We believe that Japan and China have the resources, have the restraint, have the ability to work on this directly and take tensions down, and that is our message to both sides," the official said.
Mr Yang, however, used a portion of China's annual address to the UN General Assembly on Thursday night to forcefully restate Beijing's stance that the islands had belonged to China from ancient times and were seized in 1895 after Japan defeated the Qing Dynasty in a war.
He also condemned the Japanese government's purchase of the islands earlier this month from their private owner, a step that sparked protests across China and prompted Beijing to curb bilateral trade and tourism.
"The moves taken by Japan are totally illegal and invalid," he said of the purchase, which Tokyo says was done to ease the dispute by preventing the islands' use by Japanese activists.
"They can in no way change the historical fact that Japan stole the Diaoyudao and affiliated islands and that China has sovereignty over them," Yang told the General Assembly. Diaoyudao is what China calls the main island in the cluster.