Group has no 'mediation' role in island row
Former senior US officials briefed Tokyo on Monday on Washington's unchanged support for the US-Japan alliance amid the territorial row between China and Japan over the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea.
The semiofficial US delegation, which included Stephen Hadley, former US national security adviser, and was endorsed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is scheduled to visit Beijing from Monday to Wednesday and meet senior Chinese officials.
The delegates will exchange views on China-US ties and key issues, and the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Monday that the group has no so-called function of mediation.
Observers said the veteran messengers' trip shows Washington's eagerness to prevent the islands dispute from spiraling out of control.
Compared with its prominent vow to improve relations between China and Japan, the delegation kept itself relatively inconspicuous after meeting Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Monday.
"The fact that we are here — two Republicans and two Democrats — is evidence that whatever the outcome of the presidential election, there is no disagreement among our Republicans or Democrats about the importance of the US-Japan relationship," Hadley told reporters, making no reference to the territorial dispute.
The US envoys entered into a detailed discussion with Noda about the relationship between the US and Japan and current conditions in East Asia, Japanese Foreign Ministry said on its website.
In a previous meeting, Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba told the US delegation that Tokyo and Washington should communicate more about the "efficient functioning of the Japan-US alliance" to ensure the Asia-Pacific region remains peaceful and stable.
Of the news releases issued at the meetings in Tokyo, neither mentioned the dispute over the islands, which have belonged to China for centuries.
Zhou Yongsheng, a specialist on Japanese studies at the China Foreign Affairs University, said Washington planned the visit with two goals in mind.
"Washington is expressing support for Tokyo and is trying to learn what cards Tokyo is holding in its hand," Zhou said. "In the meantime, it is requiring Tokyo to not cross Beijing's line on the Diaoyu Islands dispute."
Japan's relations with China have been strained since the Japanese government completed an illegal "purchase" of the islands, a decision that led to protests in China.
Washington recently reaffirmed that it has not taken a position in the dispute, yet it also said the islands fall within the scope of the 1960 US-Japan security treaty.
The US and Japan have canceled plans to organize a drill early next month to simulate the retaking of a remote island. That decision was made in part to avoid provoking a reaction from China, media reports said.
"If Tokyo prompts Beijing to take further strong countermeasures, that may affect Washington's interests (in the region)," Zhou Yongsheng said.
On Friday, Chinese navy and patrol vessels participated in exercises in the East China Sea.
Beijing on Tuesday responded to Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada's remark that "it is a fact that a dispute does exist" between Japan and China over the islands.
In a speech on Sunday, Okada also reiterated that "there is no territorial issue" over the islands, and he blasted Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara's plan to "purchase" the islands, which was first brought up in April.
"China has always advocated properly resolving and managing territorial disputes through dialogue and negotiations," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei on Monday.
When asked about the rescue of a Chinese cargo ship that had caught fire on Saturday evening near Okinawa, Hong said the Chinese consulate-general in Fukuoka is keeping close contact with Japan to deal with the aftermath of the accident.
The 64 Chinese crew members who were aboard the ship were rescued, and the Chinese companies that were involved in the accident are making arrangements to help the ship and crew members return home, he added.
About 1,500 Chinese travelers, departing from Shanghai in a vessel, arrived in Kumamto, Japan, on Saturday, and Japanese media called the visit "a sign that the tensions are starting to ease".
"Ensuring that the relationship between China and Japan develops in a sound manner will serve the shared interests of the people in both countries," Hong said.
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Xinhua contributed to this story.