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Japan: Dialogue needed to resolve China dispute
Updated: 2005-04-14 12:07

TOKYO - Japan avoided escalating a war of words with China on Thursday, saying dialogue was needed to resolve disputes, including one over energy projects in the East China Sea.

Simmering tensions between the two Asian giants over a range of topics, especially what Beijing sees as Japan's failure to own up to wartime atrocities, erupted in China at the weekend, with thousands taking part in protests.

The situation worsened on Wednesday after Japan announced it had started procedures to allocate rights for test-drilling in a disputed area of the East China Sea.

"As the prime minister said yesterday, it is in the interest of both Japan and China to make the East China Sea a sea of cooperation rather than a sea of confrontation," Japan's top government spokesman told a news conference.

"We believe that we need to discuss this from a broad perspective," Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said.

China earlier on Thursday reacted angrily to Japan's plan to allow gas exploration in a disputed area of the East China Sea, calling the move a "serious provocation" at a time when ties are at rock-bottom in a dispute over Tokyo's wartime past.

"This move by Japan is a serious provocation of China's rights and international norms," Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in remarks on the ministry's Web site.

"China has already made a protest to Japan, and reserves the right to take further reaction," Qin said, without elaborating.

The protests, triggered by Japan's approval of textbooks critics say whitewashes its past military aggression and colonization, also took aim at Tokyo's bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

Since then, the two sides have traded barbs, each pointing the finger at the other. Beijing says Tokyo is at fault for its mishandling of its history. Japan wants China to accept the blame for letting the weekend protests get out of hand.

Japan has also stressed the need for dialogue as the only way to solve the disputes, and its Foreign Minister, Nobutaka Machimura, will head for Beijing on Sunday for talks.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi may meet Chinese President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of an Asia-Africa summit in Jakarta next week.

Sino-Japanese relations, long beleaguered by disputes over the past and by present rivalry for leadership in Asia, chilled after Koizumi took office in 2001 and began visiting Yasukuni Shrine, where convicted war criminals are honored along with Japan's war dead.

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