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Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2010

Maehara blames Senkaku run-in on trawler's 'malicious' skipper

Staff writer

A Chinese trawler's collisions last month with two Japan Coast Guard vessels near the Senkaku islets were "malicious" actions on the part of the fishing boat skipper, but Tokyo is willing to talk with Beijing to prevent similar incidents, Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara reiterated Tuesday.

Speaking in Tokyo at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan, Maehara compared the Sept. 7 clash near the uninhabited islets with past incidents in which Chinese vessels entered and operated in the Japan-controlled territory, saying the trawler's actions this time were much worse.

Tokyo claimed the trawler deliberately struck the coast guard vessels and demanded Beijing pay for their damage.

"There is no territorial dispute in the East China Sea. But I think that Japan and China need to put our heads together and find the wisdom to come up with ways to prevent such incidents from occurring in the future," Maehara said.

The Senkaku Islands are claimed by China and Taiwan and are often the source of diplomatic tension. Maehara has repeatedly stressed the islets are "an integral part of Japanese territory."

The foreign minister called for Tokyo and Beijing to discuss preventive measures.

"We do not intend to close the doors on (bilateral) discussions," Maehara said. "Our windows to negotiations are always open."

Maehara also argued for further strengthening of the Japan-U.S. military alliance, pointing to recent changes in the region's security environment, including North Korea's leadership succession and China's surge as a regional power.

He stressed the importance of joint military exercises with the U.S. to put into practice the bilateral defense pact.

"We need to firmly take into consideration the strategic environment in East Asia," Maehara said. "And it is extremely important for Japan to make its own efforts to protect the country's sovereignty and to work in close cooperation with our alliance partner, the U.S.

"As foreign minister, I would like to make efforts to rebuild the bilateral strategic, mutually beneficial relationship" with China, he said.

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