01/17/2013, 00.00
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As China tries to appease, Japan seeks allies in ASEAN over the Senkaku/Diaoyu

The head of the National Committee of the People's Political Consultative Conference calls for dialogue to solve the dispute over the islands. However, Japan's PM on an official visit to Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia wants to stop Beijing's territorial ambitions. "China doesn't actually want a military confrontation," says Chinese analyst.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - China is trying to gain time and perhaps avoid an all out military confrontation with Japan over disputed islands in the East China Sea. Tensions between the two countries have been rising over them since last September.

For Jia Qinling chairman and Party secretary of the National Committee of the People's Political Consultative Conference, the two sides should resolve the dispute over the islands, called Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan, through dialogue.

"The two sides should appropriately handle questions surrounding the Diaoyu islands and other and other issues on which their stances' differ," said Jia during a meeting with former Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.

Although his mandate ends in March when the Communist Party's fifth generation of leaders takes over under Xi Jinping, analysts believe his statement reflects the current official line.

"China doesn't actually want a military confrontation. It is using the dispatch of ships and planes as a means of putting pressure on Japan to at least admit that a dispute over the islands exist," said Zhu Feng, a security expert at Peking University's School of International Studies.

Japan has held the islands since it began occupying Chinese territory in the 19th century. After World War Two, the United States took them over, and then returned them to Japan in the Seventies. However, pre- and post-WWII international treaties specify that they should be returned to China.

Tensions continued below the surface until the Japanese government last year decided to buy land held on the islands by private interests. Since then, the two countries have been in a tug-of-war over them.

A series of symbolic protests and landings by activists from both nations was followed by naval ships and military planes.

On different occasions, Chinese and Japanese fighter planes were sent to the islands, but no shooting so far.

Jia's overture has not been met by Japan's government led by hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The recently elected Japanese premier ran a nationalist campaign. In his view, no dispute exists.

After responding tit for tat, he now wants to use the economic card to marshal support among ASEAN nations against Beijing.

Abe is currently in Vietnam on his first official foreign visit. He will then travel to Thailand and Indonesia. All three Southeast Asian nations are major manufacturing bases and growing markets for Japanese companies.

For various analysts, the Japanese leader plans to offer these nations trading opportunities to secure their backing in Japan's dispute with China.

When Abe became prime minister for the first time six years ago, his first foreign trip was to China.


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