China rebukes Clinton for comments on disputed islets

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China rebuked US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday for her public backing of Japan's administration over a string of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that are at the centre of a messy dispute between China and Japan.

Mrs Clinton, speaking after meeting Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, repeated the longstanding US position acknowledging that the islands are under Japan's administration, raising China's ire.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on Monday Mrs Clinton's remarks were a distortion of the facts.

"The relevant comments by the US side neglects the facts and confuses right with wrong. China is extremely dissatisfied and resolutely opposed to this," he told a daily news briefing.

"We urge the US side to take a responsible attitude towards dealing with the Diaoyu Islands, be cautious in what they say and do and take concrete steps to maintain regional stability and overall picture of Sino-US ties to gain the trust of the Chinese people."

Tensions over the tiny islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, have flared in recent months, one of several maritime territorial disputes involving China that have worsened as Washington seeks to shift its security focus to Asia.

Mr Hong said nobody could change the reality that the islands belong to China, though he insisted Beijing is committed to talks in resolving the spat.

"The source of the extreme tension over the Diaoyu Islands is because of Japan's illegal purchase (of them) and its series of actions which have escalated the situation. Nobody can conceal this," he said.

The longstanding territorial dispute bubbled over again last September, when the Japanese government decided to nationalise some of the islands, buying them from a private Japanese owner.

Mrs Clinton, who is due to step down in the coming weeks, said the United States does not take a position on the ultimate sovereignty of the islands, but opposes any unilateral actions that will seek to undermine Japanese administration.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the Chinese remarks were "extremely regrettable".

"The comment by Secretary Clinton is a reflection of the United States' strong commitment to the Japan-US security treaty. The Japanese government regards it highly and welcomes it."

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