Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has insisted that there could be no compromise with China on the ownership of a disputed island chain and denounced attacks on Japanese interests.
“So far as the Senkaku islands are concerned, they are an integral part of our territory in the light of history and of international law,” Noda told reporters at the UN General Assembly in New York on Wednesday, referring to an archipelago in the East China Sea that China knows as Diaoyu.
“It is very clear and there are no territorial issues as such. Therefore there cannot be any compromise that could mean any setback from this basic position. I have to make that very clear,” he told reporters.
“The resolution of this issue should not be by force, but calmly, through reason and with respect for international law.”
China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told his Japanese counterpart Koichiro Gemba at the United Nations on Tuesday that Japan had been guilty of “severely infringing” its sovereignty, according to Beijing’s foreign ministry.
“The Chinese side will by no means tolerate any unilateral action by the Japanese side on the Diaoyu Islands,” Yang told Gemba, according to his office.
A Japanese official in New York confirmed that the talks had been “severe,” but noted the two sides had agreed to maintain a dialogue.
The dispute erupted into an angry war of words between Beijing and Tokyo after the Japanese government took the previously privately-held islands into public ownership, but Noda insisted this move had been misinterpreted.
“Part of the Senkaku islands that was held by a private citizen was transferred to governmental possession in order to ensure the stable management of it,” he said, according to an official translation.
“It is not a new acquisition. It was held under the private ownership of a Japanese citizen and was a transfer of ownership within Japanese law,” he said, adding: “We have explained this to China at length.”
“But it seems that China has yet to understand that and, because of that lack of understanding, there has been an attack or acts of violence and destruction against Japanese citizens and property there,” he complained.
Victor Gao from the National Association of International Studies in Beijing told Al Jazeera that no one on the Chinese side wanted to see an escalation in tensions.
But Gao blamed what he called “adventurous steps” taken by Japan, including the nationalisation of the islands.
“If Prime Minister [Noda] thinks that the Japanese actions will not have consequences he is completely wrong,” Gao said.
“If he wants to provoke a war then he would have good company.”
The attacks on Japanese factories and businesses have ostensibly been carried out spontaneously by patriotic crowds, but such protests are usually tightly policed in China, leading to suspicions of official collusion.
Noda refused to be drawn on whether Japan would demand compensation from China for the damage, but the economic toll of the dispute between two of the world’s biggest trading partners is mounting daily.
Shortly before the Japanese premier spoke, Japanese airline All Nippon Airways (ANA) revealed that 40,000 reservations had been canceled on its Japan-China flights until November.
And Japanese auto giants Toyota and Nissan said they would cut production in China because demand for Japanese cars has been hit by the row.
Japanese envoys in New York said they could see no reason why sovereignty over the islands should be in doubt, but Noda said Japan would be confident of victory if the case were referred to the International Court of Justice.
The Japanese delegation provided reporters with copies of documents that it said supported Tokyo’s claim to the islands, including copies of Chinese maps from 1932 and 1960 that mark them as Japanese territory.
In a complicated three-way dispute, Taiwan also claims ownership of the chain. South Korea and Japan, meanwhile, dispute the sovereignty of another island, known in Japan as Takeshima, but administered from Seoul.
Chinese government ships have sailed into waters around the disputed islands in recent days in an apparent bid to assert sovereignty, but there was no sign of them in the area Wednesday, according to Japanese coast guards.
And on Tuesday, coast guard vessels from Japan and Taiwan dueled with water cannon after dozens of Taiwanese fishing boats escorted by patrol ships sailed into waters around the Tokyo-controlled islands for several hours.