Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Japan to station troops on islands in row with China

TOKYO: Japan is considering stationing troops near islands at the center of a row with China, a news report said on Wednesday, but Beijing’s move to ease mineral exports raised hopes for an easing of friction. Asia’s two powerhouses have been embroiled for over three weeks in their worst diplomatic spat in years, triggered by Japan’s arrest of a Chinese captain after a tense maritime incident near the islets in the East China Sea.

Although Japan has since freed the skipper, a war of words has raged on between the traditional rivals, with China pursuing a multi-faceted offensive of official diplomatic protests and unofficial economic measures.

Amid the heightened tensions, Japan’s defense ministry has asked for a budget to study a plan to station ground troops in Japan’s southwestern islands near the disputed island chain, the Nikkei Business Daily reported.

The only Japanese troops now permanently stationed in the far south are on the region’s main island of Okinawa, also the main base for US troops in Japan; but the plan calls for troops on the remote Yonaguni Island, close to Taiwan.

China, which has been increasingly assertive about various other maritime territorial claims, insists that the islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, have been part of its territory since ancient times.

Amid the tensions, Beijing and Tokyo have announced no plans so far for a meeting between Japan’s
Prime Minister Naoto Kan and his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao at an Asia-Europe summit in Brussels next week.

In a sign that tensions may be gradually easing between the increasingly interdependent regional economic powerhouses, Japanese traders reported on Wednesday that China had dropped a de-facto ban on crucial mineral exports.

Beijing has denied claims it blocked the shipments of rare earths, a market in which it has a virtual global monopoly and which Japan’s high tech firms rely on for making everything from wind turbines to hybrid cars.

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