Dispute scuppers China-Japan summit







China accused Japan of “violating Chinese sovereignty and territorial integrity”, reopening a bitter row between the two countries over disputed islands in the East China Sea.

The renewed diplomatic tensions scuppered plans for a Sino-Japanese summit meeting in Hanoi on Friday that had been seen as a key step toward calming ties between the world’s second and third-largest economies.

China also rebuked Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, saying it was “strongly dissatisfied” with remarks she had made that appeared to take Japan’s side in the argument over the islands.

The revival of the dispute first sparked by Japan’s detention of a Chinese fisherman near the disputed Senkaku islands last month threatened to cast a pall over a two-day gathering of regional leaders in the Vietnamese capital.

Japanese officials said China had cancelled at the last moment what would have been the first formal encounter since the dispute between Wen Jiabao, Chinese premier, and Naoto Kan, Japan’s prime minister.

The meeting had been agreed earlier on Friday at an apparently cordial encounter between foreign ministers of the two countries.

However, Hu Zhengyue, a Chinese assistant foreign minister, later denounced Japan for “unceasingly disseminating” comments through the media that he said had violated China’s sovereignty.

Japan had made “untrue statements” about the content of the foreign ministers’ meeting, Mr Hu said. “This has destroyed the proper atmosphere for a meeting of the two nations’ leaders in Hanoi,” China’s official Xinhua news agency quoted him as saying.

China earlier denied a report that it had agreed to restart negotiations on a deal to jointly exploit gas resources in disputed areas of the East China Sea. But Japanese officials dismissed suggestions they had ever made such a claim.

“It’s extremely regrettable that the Chinese side has cancelled the summit meeting because of a baseless report,” said Tetsuro Fukuyama, Japan’s deputy chief cabinet secretary.

Mr Fukuyama said Tokyo had been “extremely surprised” by the cancellation of the premiers’ meeting, but that Japan would respond “calmly”.

The renewed frictions over the Senkakus, which China knows as the Diaoyu islands, could further complicate already sensitive relations between Beijing and Washington.

Tokyo had hoped that a formal meeting between Mr Wen and Mr Kan would help smooth preparations for a summit next month of Asia-Pacific nations to be held in the Japanese port city of Yokohama.

Beijing’s criticism of Mrs Clinton came after she met Seiji Maehara, Japan’s foreign minister, and restated the US position that it is committed to help Japan defend the Senkakus against foreign attack under the terms of its security treaty with Tokyo.

Mrs Clinton was to join discussions among regional leaders on Saturday for talks hoped to ease differences between China and the US and between Beijing and some other governments in south-east Asia.

In a speech in Hawaii, en route to a 13-day Asia trip, Mrs Clinton struck a conciliatory note but admitted there were still difficult issues between the US and China.

“There are some in both countries who believe that China’s interests and ours are fundamentally at odds ... But that is not our view,” she said.

Mrs Clinton is due to travel on Saturday to Hainan, the island in southern China, to meet with Dai Bingguo, the leading Chinese foreign policy official.

Additional reporting by Ben Bland in Hanoi

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