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September 21, 2013

China Open to Talks with Japan on Island Dispute

by VOA News

China's foreign minister says Beijing is open to talks with Japan over a group of disputed islands, if Tokyo is willing to first acknowledge there is such a dispute.

Wang Yi made his comments Friday at a forum hosted by the Brookings Institute in Washington.

"China and Japan are perpetual neighbors and the two countries have very close people-to-people exchange and business ties. We are still ready to sit down and have a dialogue with the Japanese side, but first the Japanese side needs to recognize there is such a dispute," he said.

Ties between the world's second- and third-largest economies have deteriorated since last year when Japan purchased some of the islands from their private Japanese landowner.

China refused to recognize the purchase. It responded by sending increased air and sea patrols to the area, in what is seen as an attempt to challenge Japanese control.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has since called for high-level talks to improve ties, but his government has refused to acknowledge there is a dispute over the islands' sovereignty. China has dismissed Abe's offer of talks as insincere.

The Japanese government has defended its purchase of the islands, saying it was meant to keep them out of the hands of an outspokenly nationalistic ex-governor of Tokyo.

The islands are known as Senkaku in Japan and as Diaoyu in China. They are uninhabited, but are surrounded by rich fishing grounds and potential energy reserves. They are also located near strategic shipping lanes.

Japan annexed the islets in the late 19th century. China claimed sovereignty over the archipelago in 1971, saying ancient maps show it has been Chinese territory for centuries.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.