- Associated Press - Friday, October 29, 2010

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — China accused Japan on Friday of distorting the facts over disputed islands in the East China Sea a month after a Chinese fishing trawler collided with two Japanese patrol boats, sparking a major diplomatic row.

Foreign ministers from Japan and China had met earlier in the day on the sidelines of an Asian regional summit in an attempt to mend fences over the dispute, which plunged diplomatic relations to their lowest point in five years. The two sides were seeking to lay the foundation for talks between Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

But Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Hu Zhengyue told reporters that Japan was making untrue statements to the media and turning the contested islands — called Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan — into a “hot topic.”

“Japan spread groundless distortions. … They want to make the Diaoyu islands a hot-topic issue,” he said. “The Japanese side should take responsibility for ruining the atmosphere for leaders of the two countries.”

Mr. Hu again asserted China’s sovereignty over the islands.

Japanese Deputy Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama later said there were no plans for bilateral talks in Hanoi. Mr. Kan was quoted as saying that he “will respond calmly.”

Last month, Japan arrested the Chinese fishing boat captain after the collision near the islands, enraging China, which called it an illegal action. Japan eventually released him, but tensions have remained high.

The incident has stoked anti-Japanese sentiment, with protests involving hundreds flaring in cities across China.

Earlier in the day, as the two sides called for improved ties, Japan appealed for the lifting of a block on Chinese exports of rare earth metals crucial for its high-tech manufacturing.

Japan also asked China to reopen talks on the joint development of gas fields in the East China Sea, Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara said. Beijing suspended the gas field talks during the spat.

Mr. Maehara met a day earlier in Hawaii with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who said the restrictions on rare earths served as a “wake-up call” for the global high-tech industry to diversify its suppliers. China currently produces 97 percent of the world’s rare earth metals, used in everything from laptops to cell phones.

China said Thursday it will not use the metals as a “bargaining tool.”

Tokyo recently said it planned to mine rare earths in Vietnam as a way to reduce its dependence on China.

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