US calls for 'cooler heads' in China-Japan islands row

One of two Chinese patrol ships, identified as Haijian 46 by the Japan Coast Guard, near the disputed islands in the East China Sea, known as Senkaku in Japan or Diaoyu in China, in this handout file photo  from December 2008 File photo from 2008 of one of the two Chinese patrol boats reportedly near the islands

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The US has called for ''cooler heads to prevail'' as tension intensifies between China and Japan over disputed islands in the East China Sea.

China sent two patrol ships to islands - known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China - on Tuesday.

This came after Japan sealed a deal to buy three of the islands from their private Japanese owner.

Washington will not take sides in the matter, said Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell.

The region, he said, was the ''cockpit of the global economy'' and it was ''of utmost importance'' that peace and stability be maintained.

''The stakes could not be bigger and the desire is to have all leaders to keep that squarely in mind,'' he said, in answer to questions at a debate at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

Mr Campbell is America's top diplomat on East Asia.

'Reciprocal measures'

China's defence ministry has issued a strongly-worded statement against Japan's move to buy the islands, Chinese state media reported.

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

"The Chinese government and armed forces stand firm and are unshakeable in its determination and will safeguard sovereignty over the nation's territories," ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng was quoted as saying by Xinhua news agency.

"We are watching closely the evolution of the situation and reserve the right to take reciprocal measures."

A group of about 15 protesters gathered at the Japanese embassy in Hong Kong on Wednesday, shouting slogans and burning the Japanese flags.

Tension has been brewing between the two countries for several months over the islands.

Japan controls the uninhabited but resource-rich islands, which are also claimed by Taiwan. They lie south of Okinawa and north of Taiwan, sit in key shipping lanes and are thought to lie close to gas deposits.

Japan says it is buying the islands to promote their stable and peaceful management.

"We have absolutely no desire for any repercussions as far as Japan-China relations are concerned. It is important that we avoid misunderstanding and unforeseen problems," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura.

Mr Fujimura told reporters that the government had set aside 2.05bn yen ($26m, £16.4m) to pay for the three islands.

The move followed a bid by the outspoken and right-wing Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara to buy them using public donations - an action analysts believe would have further raised tensions with China.

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