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Updated: October 5, 2010 21:41 IST

China, Japan end spat over maritime collision

AP
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In this Sept. 26, file photo, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan answers reporters' questions on the recent maritime dispute with China, in Tokyo.
AP
In this Sept. 26, file photo, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan answers reporters' questions on the recent maritime dispute with China, in Tokyo.

Japan declared an end on Tuesday to a dispute with China over a high-seas collision last month and the two countries agreed to resume exchanges and projects that had been stopped because of the incident.

The breakthrough came after the prime ministers of the two countries held an impromptu after-dinner meeting in the corridor of an Asia-Europe summit.

But the Sino-Japan dispute over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that led to the maritime clash last month remained unresolved, with both countries claiming possession.

The diplomatic confrontation threatened to dampen the atmosphere at the biannual Asia-European Union summit, or ASEM, as Prime Ministers Wen Jiabao of China and Naoto Kan studiously avoided each other during the first session of the 48-nation conference.

But then they walked out of the working dinner at the same time and “happened to meet in the corridor,” said Satoru Satoh, the Japanese Foreign Ministry press secretary. They talked briefly and agreed to move past the maritime incident. Only the two men and their interpreters were there, he said.

“This particular incident is over,” he told reporters in Brussels.

In Beijing, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement “both parties agreed to strengthen non-governmental exchanges and communications between the governments, and to hold high-level Chinese-Japanese talks at the appropriate time.”

Despite the thaw, both sides remained firm on the territorial dispute, the statement said Mr. Wen reiterated that the uninhabited islands — called Diaoyu by China and Senkaku by Japan — belong to China.

Tokyo also made clear Japan was not compromising on its claim, which dates back to 1895. Satoh said Japan sees no need to ask a third party or the U.N.’s International Court of Justice to mediate the territorial dispute.

In Tokyo on Tuesday, Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara called on Beijing to meet and discuss ways the countries could avoid similar spats in the future.

“There is no territorial dispute in the East China Sea,” he said at a press conference. “But I do understand the importance of Japanese-Chinese relations, and if on both sides we can put our heads together, we can find ways to prevent such unfortunate incidents from happening again in the future.

“Our window for negotiation is always open,” Mr. Maehara said, pledging to work to restore ties with China.

The collision of a Chinese trawler with two Japanese patrol vessels last month and Japan’s detention of the fishing boat captain plunged relations to their lowest level in five years, although last week ties appeared to be heading back on track.

The crash stirred up nationalism in both countries. Beijing suspended ministerial-level talks with Tokyo and postponed talks on jointly developing undersea gas fields. Japan released the captain, but Beijing shocked Tokyo by demanding an apology.

Beijing also apparently lifted a de facto export ban on rare earth materials needed in Japan for advanced manufacturing, but Japan’s economic ministry said that it could not yet say whether shipments had resumed.

According to a survey of Japanese companies conducted last week by the ministry and released Tuesday, all 31 companies involved in such trade that responded to the survey said disruptions of the shipments increased since Sept. 21. They said exports were effectively blocked at numerous Chinese ports because of abnormal amounts of paperwork and increased inspections.

“The government strongly wants this to be corrected,” said Economic Minister Akihiro Ohata.

Tokyo is pressing China to release the fourth man, who remains under house arrest and is being investigated for illegally videotaping military targets.

Mr. Satoh told reporters in Brussels he had no information on the fate of the fourth man.

He said Japanese and Chinese leaders will have another opportunity to meet at an East Asia summit in Vietnam later this month, and at next month’s summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Yokohama, to be attended by President Hu Jintao.

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