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US hopes Japan, China manage rows through 'friendly' means

"The friction and tension between Tokyo and Beijing is a matter of concern to all neighbors and certainly to the United States," Daniel Russel, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said.

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(Yomiuri Shimbun/AFP/Getty Images)

The top US diplomat for East Asian affairs expressed concern Saturday over the persistent wrangling between Japan and China and said he hopes Asia's two biggest economies will settle their territorial dispute and other disagreements in a peaceful manner.

"The friction and tension between Tokyo and Beijing is a matter of concern to all neighbors and certainly to the United States," Daniel Russel, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told reporters in Beijing, the last leg of his five-country Asian tour.

"We hope leaders on all sides will exercise restraint and sensitivity, and will consistently pursue diplomatic and friendly means to manage disputes or to resolve outstanding issues," Russel said after meeting with Chinese senior officials, including Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Liu Zhenmin, vice foreign minister in charge of Asian affairs.

Russel said that the international community is concerned about the world's second and third largest economies remaining at odds at a time when "the global economy is too fragile."

"We hope that quiet diplomatic engagement between Japan and China bears fruit," he said, adding that Washington has noted with interest the first face-to-face contact between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier this month on the sidelines of the summit of the Group of 20 major economies in Russia.

Bilateral relations have sunk to their lowest point in years since the Japanese government's purchase in September last year of a significant portion of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea from a Japanese private owner.

The islands are claimed by China which calls them Diaoyu.

Since Japan put the uninhabited islands under state control, neither Tokyo nor Beijing has shown any intention to make a compromise that could smooth the way for them to repair their soured ties.

Due to their feuding over ownership of the islands and different perceptions of wartime history, no formal summit has been held between the leaders of the two countries since May 2012.

Abe, who took office last December, has repeatedly called for the restart of political dialogue with Beijing without any conditions.

But Beijing has spurned his overtures, saying Tokyo's acknowledgement that there exists a territorial dispute over the islands would be the starting point for arranging a formal top-level meeting.

Asked about the situation in North Korea, Russel, who was on a two-day visit to Beijing from Friday, said the United States and China "fully agreed" that it is unacceptable for Pyongyang "to continue in its pursuit of nuclear weapons."

He said they share the view that the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is not a "theoretical goal" but a "practical necessity."

"The United States and China are in serious consultations about a range of ways in which we can coordinate our actions to bring about a meaningful and an authentic negotiating process" to aim for "the fastest timeline with the elimination of North Korea's nuclear weapons program," he said, without elaborating.

Russel said North Korea has "only one path" to go down if it wants to have economic development, security and international recognition, which is to fulfill the commitments it made in 2005 to halt and dismantle all of its nuclear programs.

Those commitments were made in the six-party talks involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States, which have been stalled since December 2008.

Russel's remarks came at a time there are signs that Pyongyang may have restarted a reactor at its main Yongbyon nuclear complex.

On Wednesday, the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and the Institute for Science and International Security released reports, citing commercial satellite imagery taken in late August, saying North Korea seems to have reactivated the 5-megawatt reactor that is capable of producing plutonium.

Before arriving in Beijing, Russel visited Brunei, Indonesia, Japan and South Korea on his first Asian trip since taking up his post in July.