Japan-China ministers in 'severe' meeting over islands row

Taiwanese vessels sail near the disputed islands on 25 September 2012 Both Taiwanese and Chinese ships have been sailing into what Japan says are its territorial waters

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The Japanese and Chinese foreign ministers have held talks on a bitter row over disputed islands.

The meeting came on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

The Japanese minister described the atmosphere as severe, Kyodo News agency said, while his Chinese opposite number restated Beijing's sovereignty over the islands, Xinhua news agency said.

The islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, are controlled by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan.

Tension in the region has been high since Japan's purchase of the islands from their private Japanese owner.

Both Chinese and Taiwanese fishing and surveillance vessels have sailed in and out of waters around the islands - which lie in the East China Sea - in recent days.

Japan-China disputed islands

  • The archipelago consists of five islands and three reefs
  • Japan, China and Taiwan claim them; they are controlled by Japan and form part of Okinawa prefecture
  • The Japanese government signed a deal in September 2012 to purchase three islands from Japanese businessman Kunioki Kurihara, who used to rent them out to the Japanese state
  • The islands were the focus of a major diplomatic row between Japan and China in 2010

On Tuesday, Japanese and Taiwanese ships sprayed water at each other after a Taiwanese flotilla briefly entered what Japan says are its territorial waters.

A Japanese foreign ministry official warned that the presence of such vessels risked a "miscalculation" or "accident", the Associated Press news agency reported.

'Gross violation'

The meeting between Japan's Koichiro Gemba and China's Yang Jiechi took place late on Tuesday.

Mr Yang "reiterated China's solemn position" on the islands, Xinhua said, calling the Japanese government's purchase "a gross violation of China's territorial integrity and sovereignty".

Mr Gemba urged China to exercise restraint and described the mood as "severe", Kyodo news agency reported.

The row over ownership of the islands has been rumbling for years and has flared sporadically. This time, it has led to anti-Japanese protests in several Chinese cities and a warning from China that economic ties could be affected.

A number of Japanese companies were forced to briefly halt operations earlier this month because of protests.

On Wednesday the Toyota Motor Corporation confirmed that it was cutting back production in China because of a slowdown in orders and sales. A spokesperson would not elaborate on how much of a reduction was planned.

A ceremony due to mark 40 years of diplomatic ties between the two nations has also been cancelled.

The Japanese government moved to buy the islands in response to a potentially much more provocative plan by right-wing Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara to buy and develop them using public donations.

The row comes at a time when both China and Japan are facing political changes domestically, making it difficult for either side to be seen as backing down.

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