Japan denies having agreed with China to shelve islet row

Japan has never agreed with China to shelve a dispute over the ownership of a group of islands in the East China Sea, the top government spokesman said Tuesday, denying a comment by one of his predecessors that such a deal was made decades ago.

"There is no truth (to the remark) that (Japan) agreed with China to shelve or maintain the status quo of the Senkaku Islands," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference, reiterating Tokyo's position that no territorial dispute exists between the two countries.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida asserted that the uninhabited Japanese-controlled islands, claimed by China as Diaoyu, are an inherent part of Japan's territory. "It is not the case that to this day, we have reached an agreement to shelve (the dispute), nor has there been a territorial dispute that should be shelved in the first place," he told reporters.

Their comments came after Hiromu Nonaka, who was Japan's top spokesman in 1998-1999, said in Beijing on Monday that Japanese and Chinese leaders reached an agreement to shelve the dispute when the two countries normalized their relations in 1972.

Nonaka, leading a delegation of incumbent and former Japanese lawmakers, said he heard about the deal from Japan's then prime minister, Kakuei Tanaka, just after normalization.

Kishida declined to directly comment on Nonaka's remarks on the grounds that they were made in a private capacity, while Suga underscored that Nonaka has already left the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Kishida said, "As far as our country's diplomatic records show, there is at least no such fact" about reaching a deal with China.

Nonaka's revelations come as Japan struggles to address strained ties with China over the islands, a deadlock that has also disturbed trade, and cultural and diplomatic exchanges between the two biggest economies in Asia.

While no clear signs of reconciliation have emerged, a senior Chinese military official said Sunday in a speech at a regional security meeting in Singapore that China and its Asian neighbors should "put aside" maritime territorial disputes and resolve their differences through dialogue and consultation.