Island row with China downplayed by Japan
JAPAN rejected Chinese protests yesterday over the raising of a Japanese flag on disputed islands but sounded a placatory note, saying ties with Beijing are among the "most important" it has.
Tokyo stood firm in its insistence that islands where Japanese nationalists landed on Sunday, which it administers, were part of its territory, but said it wanted to improve ties with its giant neighbour.
The latest confrontation has sparked off the worst protests in China in at least seven years.
The Japanese daily Yomiuri Shimbun reported on Sunday Japan planned to replace its ambassador to China, Uichiro Niwa, possibly in October after he warned in June that the Tokyo municipal government’s plan to buy some of the islands could spark an "extremely grave crisis" between the Asian powers.
Mr Niwa has been under pressure from both ruling and opposition parties to resign for misrepresenting Tokyo’s position that the islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, are part of Japanese territory, the daily said. The Yomiuri said Mr Niwa was expected to be removed in the foreign ministry’s reshuffle after the current session of parliament ends on September 8.
Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Osamu Fujimura said Beijing and Taipei, which both claim the islands, had lodged objections after the 10 Japanese nationalists landed on the island. Sunday’s flag-raising came just days after Tokyo deported pro-Beijing protesters who had landed on the same island.
"We have explained our nation’s basic position and told them that we cannot accept their claims," Mr Fujimura said in Tokyo. "There is no doubt that the islands are our territory historically and under international law," he said.
Despite their large and mutually important trade relationship, ties between Tokyo and Beijing are often blighted by historical animosities, especially war-time atrocities carried out by the invading Japanese army.
But Mr Fujimura insisted that neither Tokyo nor Beijing had any interest in seeing relations affected by the dispute over the islands, whose seabed is believed to harbour rich mineral resources.
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