By Matthew Lee
NEW YORK — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged China’s top diplomat on Thursday to peacefully resolve increasingly tense maritime disputes with Japan and its smaller neighbors in Southeast Asia.
A senior U.S. official said Clinton had pressed Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on the importance of settling its conflicting claim with Japan over the Japanese-held Senkaku islands, called Diaoyu by China, along with numerous competing claims in the South China Sea with members of the Association of South East Asian Nations.
“We urged that cooler heads prevail, that Japan and China engage in dialogue to calm the waters,” the official said. “We believe that Japan and China have the resources, have the restraint, have the ability to work on this together and take tensions down.”
The official was not authorized to publicly discuss the private discussion between Clinton and Yang on the sidelines of the annual U.N. General Assembly and therefore requested anonymity. Clinton was expected to make the same case to Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba when she meets with him in New York.
However, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said Wednesday that his nation was not willing to compromise in its territorial dispute with China over the Senkakus that have spawned violent anti-Japan protests in China.
“So far as the Senkaku islands are concerned, they are the inherent part of our territory, in light of history and international law. It’s very clear,” Noda told reporters in New York. “There are no territorial issues as such, therefore there could not be any compromise that may mean any setback from this basic position.”
Senior Chinese and Japanese diplomats met both in New York and Beijing on Tuesday, seeking to mend ties frayed by the spat over the islands that has raised tensions between them to their highest level in years. The islands are uninhabited but sit astride rich fishing waters and potentially large reserves of natural gas.
In her meeting with Yang, Clinton also called on China to work cooperatively with ASEAN over the territorial disputes in the South China Sea, according to the U.S. official.
Clinton has been pressing China and ASEAN to develop and implement a code of conduct for the South China Sea that could pave the way for a mechanism to resolve the disputes.
Clinton, who was to meet later Thursday with ASEAN foreign ministers, said she was pleased that ASEAN and Chinese officials had resumed high-level meetings on the matter ahead of November’s East Asia Summit in Cambodia at which the issue is expected to be a primary focus. The U.S. would like to see progress on the code of conduct by the time the summit takes place.