A bitter territorial dispute between China and Japan showed no signs of improvement Tuesday, as foreign ministers from both countries held high-level talks to ease tensions.
The official Xinhua news agency says Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi “reiterated China's position” on the disputed East China Sea islands during the talks, which were held on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
His Japanese counterpart Koichiro Gemba, who described the atmosphere of the hour-long meeting as “severe,” warned China to exercise restraint over the islands, known in Japan as Senkaku and in China as Diaoyu.
It is the first ministerial meeting between China and Japan since Tokyo announced it was purchasing some of the islands from their private Japanese owner.
Japan's move to nationalize the islands was seen as an attempt to keep the islands from being purchased and developed by the outspoken governor of Tokyo, who is known for his hawkish nationalistic views.
But since then, relations have sunk to their lowest point in years, with anti-Japan protests breaking out across China and many Chinese refusing to buy Japanese-made goods. On Wednesday, Japanese automakers Toyota and Nissan said they are reducing production in China because of lessened demand.
But there are indications that neither China nor Japan, important trade partners, want the dispute to damage ties further. Xinhua said both sides promised Tuesday to maintain “consultations on the issue” and on “bilateral relations.”
However, Yang warned that bilateral relations could not “return to the track of sound and steady development” unless Japanese officials “take concrete measures to correct its mistakes.”
Tensions also remain high at sea, with China regularly sending patrol and surveillance ships near the Japanese-controlled islands. On Tuesday, Japanese coast guard ships exchanged water cannon fire with coast guard vessels and fishing boats from Taiwan, which also claims the islands.