VIENTIANE--Japan's prime minister has used the word "Senkaku" at an international summit for the first time since the dispute flared, when he underscored his nation's claim to the islands on Nov. 6 in the Lao capital.
"There is no doubt in terms of both history and international law that the Senkaku Islands are an integral part of Japan, and that we control them in a valid manner," Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said during a summit of the Asia-Europe Meeting. "No territorial issue exists."
The isles are claimed by both China and Taiwan. An elevated standoff since September has seen violent demonstrations in Chinese cities, an apparent consumer boycott there of some Japanese products, and incursions by Chinese vessels into Japanese territorial waters around the islands.
At the summit, Noda first referred to the issue only obliquely, avoiding naming the islands in question.
"Many issues threaten regional peace and prosperity, internationally," Noda said. "Japan will continue efforts to overcome any conflicts or differences, through a peaceful approach in accordance with international law."
China's foreign minister then made a more confrontational address. Yang Jiechi spoke using the islands' Chinese name, Diaoyu. He denounced Japan, arguing that the islands had been returned to China at the time of Japan’s defeat in World War II.
"This outcome of the anti-fascist war must not be denied," Yang said.
Noda responded: "I had not intended to raise a bilateral issue, but I want to make Japan’s position clear because the Chinese representative has made a remark."
He then stressed that the Senkakus remain Japanese territory, a comment which triggered another riposte from Yang.
After the summit, Noda expressed his displeasure with Yang.
"An inappropriate remark came from the Chinese side," he told reporters.
At a dinner on Nov. 5, Noda sat at a table adjacent to one where Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was seated. Their backs were almost facing, but despite their proximity the pair did not talk.
Wen left Laos the next morning before the summit officially closed.
Noda briefly talked with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Vladivostok on Sept. 9, a day before the Japanese government decided to put the Senkakus in state ownership. The exchange took place while the two leaders stood.
With no direct contact between the leaders since then, bilateral ties have become increasingly chilly. There is little chance of summit talks in the near future.
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