|The United States has called on China and Japan to hold talks to ease tensions [AFP]
The prime ministers of China and Japan have met amid a diplomatic row that threatened to overshadow a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders being held in Vietnam.
Naoto Kan, Japan's prime minister, held a brief meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Wen Jiabao, on Saturday as leaders of 16 nations - 10 from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) as well as Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand - met in Hanoi.
Kan said that good relations with Beijing were very important for Asian and world stability, saying that despite the seeming deterioration in relations, there was no change in Japan's stance to effort strategic and beneficial ties with China.
China and Japan have been at loggerheads since Japanese authorities seized a Chinese vessel last month and detained the captain. Though the captain has since been released, tensions continue to simmer between the two.
The spat between the two Asian powers escalated when Beijing accused Tokyo of making false comments over a chain of disputed islands.
A day earlier there were signs of a thaw as the foreign ministers of China and Japan met on the sidelines of Asean. But soon thereafter, Hu Zhengyue, China's assistant foreign affairs minister, used extremely strong terms to condemn Japan.
"Japanese diplomatic authorities have partnered with other nations [referring to the US] and stepped up the heat on the Diaoyu island issue," he said, referring to disputed East China Sea islands known as the Senkaku in Japan.
He said the comments had "violated China's sovereignty and territorial integrity."
"The Japanese moves, which is clear for everyone to see, have ruined the needed atmosphere for a meeting between the two leaders. Japan should take full responsibility for the result," he said.
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, waded into the dispute over South China Sea and East China Sea islands on Saturday as she joined the East Asia Summit.
"When disputes arise over maritime territory, we are committed to resolving them peacefully based on customary international law".
Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state.
"The United States has a national interest in the freedom of navigation and unimpeded lawful commerce," Clinton said in a speech to the summit, repeating a US stand in the presence of China in Vietnam's capital.
"And when disputes arise over maritime territory, we are committed to resolving them peacefully based on customary international law," she said.
But China reacted strongly to Clinton's comments.
"The Chinese government and people will never accept any word or deed that includes the Diaoyu [Senkaku] islands within the scope of the US-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security," a foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement.
Bunn Nagara, an editor with Malaysia's Star newspaper, told Al Jazeera that the US should be more circumspect in its approach to the region.
"The US has a definite role in this region because it is a major power with specific interests but it also has to be circumspect in saying or doing anything that might be misinterpreted," he said.
"There are a lot of nuances in this region and it's important not to step on toes or be seen to do. The US has to play a neutral role between Japan and China".
Also on Saturday the United States openly called on China and Japan to hold talks to ease tensions.
"We want China and Japan to sit down, to have dialogue and work through the issues," Philip Crowley, the US state department spokesman, said in Washington.
"We would hope that both countries will take affirmative steps to de-escalate tensions around this issue and that will create the conditions for a meaningful dialogue," he said.
The United States and Russia have been invited as members of the East Asia Summit for the first time at the group's annual gathering, in what analysts say is a blow to Chinese attempts to diminish US influence in the region.
Their entry into the summit comes despite Chinese attempts to promote another grouping, which does not include the US, as the region's main forum for regional co-operation.
The East Asia Summit is a forum for dialogue on strategic, political and economic issues.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies