Keep South China Sea row out of G-7 summit, China tells Japan

A Chinese Coast Guard vessel is pictured on the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands, in the South China Sea, on March 29, 2014.
A Chinese Coast Guard vessel is pictured on the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands, in the South China Sea, on March 29, 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO • China has pressed Japan not to broach Beijing's disputes with regional neighbours in the South China Sea at the Group of Seven (G-7) summit in Japan in May.

Kyodo news agency, quoting diplomatic sources, said Beijing warned that the issue would hamper efforts to improve relations with Tokyo.

It pressed the point at a vice-foreign ministerial meeting in Tokyo late last month, the sources were quoted as saying. They said Japan rebuffed the demand, saying the international community cannot accept China's building of artificial islands in the sea and their militarisation.

 

China is embroiled in territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea with Taiwan and four members of Asean - Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is eager to clearly state the importance of the rule of law in the G-7 leaders' declaration, said the Kyodo report.

This year's summit of the G-7 states - Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United States and host Japan - will take place in Mie prefecture on May 26-27.

At a meeting with Japan's deputy foreign minister for political affairs Shinsuke Sugiyama on Feb 29, assistant Chinese foreign minister Kong Xuanyou voiced strong discontent with Tokyo's open criticism of Beijing over the South China Sea issue, said Kyodo.

He was cited as saying that Japan, which is not involved in the disputes, was acting like a concerned party and he expressed doubt as to whether Tokyo really wanted to improve ties with Beijing. He also warned that how Japan approaches the issue at the G-7 summit will be a litmus test of whether bilateral ties can be improved.

Mr Sugiyama said it would be intolerable to try to change the status quo in the South China Sea with military might and it would be in the international community's interest to establish the rule of law at sea.

If Japan does raise the issue at the G-7 summit, Chinese ire could cast a pall over signs of improvement in ties marred by a spat surrounding islands in the East China Sea.

Sino-Japan ties sank to the lowest point in years after Japan's purchase in 2012 of most of the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands in the East China Sea from a private Japanese owner.

But the ties have gradually warmed since Mr Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping held their first meeting in November 2014.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2016, with the headline 'Keep S. China Sea row out of G-7 summit, China tells Japan'. Print Edition | Subscribe