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China regards the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea as its "core interest," China's Foreign Ministry said Friday, the first announcement of that position.
"The Diaoyu Islands are about sovereignty and territorial integrity. Of Course, it's China's core interest," ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a press conference.
China had used the term relating to issues such as Taiwan, Tibet and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, but Beijing had not made clear if it covered the Senkaku Islands, which it calls Diaoyu.
The move suggests China will make no concessions on the islets, which it claims have been its inherent territory since ancient times.
Hua made the comment after Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Japan's public broadcaster NHK in Tokyo that Chinese officials repeatedly told him during his visit to Beijing earlier this week the islands are "one of China's core interests."
Japan maintains the Senkaku Islands are an integral part of its territory and there is no territorial dispute over them with China.