Beijing, Tokyo finish another round of talks over disputed isles

BEIJING - China said it finished another round of meetings with Japan yesterday about a dispute over East China Sea islands that has hurt bilateral trade and deepened tensions.

Both sides have publicly refused to back down on their respective claims to the Japan-controlled islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

Taiwan also claims the island chain and calls it Diaoyutai.

Chinese and Japanese officials overseeing Asian affairs met on Sunday and yesterday to prepare for more talks between their deputy foreign ministers, which began on Sept 25, said foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei.

He did not say where the talks took place, but indicated that they were held between Mr Luo Zhaohui, director-general of the foreign ministry's Department of Asian Affairs, and Mr Shinsuke Sugiyama, director-general of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau of Japan's Foreign Ministry.

Beijing's representative "said China is willing to solve the dispute with negotiation but China would never cede even half a step for sovereignty issues", Mr Hong said.

He reiterated China's stance that Japan "admit mistakes" and "make concrete efforts" to resolve the situation.

The row escalated in September after Tokyo bought three of the five islands from their private Japanese owner to prevent Tokyo's nationalist governor Shintaro Ishihara from doing so.

The move enraged the Chinese who saw it as an attempt to boost Japan's sovereignty claim. It also sparked violent anti-Japanese protests in dozens of Chinese cities.

National pride as well as potential mineral reserves are at stake in the decades-old dispute, which has hit the trade relationship between the world's second and third largest economies.

Since September, Chinese vessels have moved in and out of what Japan says is its sovereign territory, most recently for three consecutive days ending on Sunday.

Four Chinese craft typically push to within hailing distance of Japan's ships. They flash illuminated signs in Japanese to press Beijing's argument that it has ancient claims to the set of islands.

China says its craft have tried to chase the Japanese away at least once, but Japan denies any of its ships fled.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA