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China hints Japan is courting 'strategic hostility' over islands

A territorial dispute over a group of islands in the East China Sea has touched off an escalating war of words.

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In this Juy 1, 2013 photo, a Chinese surveillance ship, rear center, sails near Uotsuri island in Japanese, or Diaoyu Dao in Chinese, the biggest island in the disputed Senkaku Islands, or Diaoyu Islands.

Kyodo News/AP

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Relations between Beijing and Tokyo, long weighed down by bitter memories of the Japanese invasion of China more than 75 years ago, are declining to a fresh low in a heated war of words. 

The tone of the barbed exchanges suggests that neither side is ready to compromise in the territorial dispute over a group of islands in the East China Sea that has soured relations between the two neighbors for the past nine months.

“I am not optimistic about any improvement,” says Liu Jiangyong, a Japan expert at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

Beijing has reportedly offered to shelve its claim to the Diaoyu islands, which are known as the Senkaku in Japan, if Japan agrees to acknowledge that there is a territorial dispute over the islands.

Japan has consistently refused to do so, insisting that China has no claim to the specks of land that Tokyo took over at the end of the 19th century. “It is natural for us to maintain a resolute stance over an issue that we can never make concessions on,” said Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga earlier this month.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, campaigning hard for Upper House parliamentary elections on July 21, said recently that Beijing was demanding a Japanese admission that the islands are disputed before any Sino-Japanese summit.

Mr. Abe dismissed that demand Sunday, saying that “it is wrong as a diplomatic stance to reject holding a summit meeting because conditions are not met.”

To Chinese eyes, Japan’s refusal to acknowledge China’s claim to the islands makes any summit pointless. “If the topic of the dialog, the dispute over the islands, doesn’t even exist for Japan, dialog would be meaningless,” argues Professor Liu.

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