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US, Asian defence ministers to meet amid China tensions

Japan PM hopes for improved ties with China
Tokyo (AFP) Oct 9, 2010 - Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Saturday he believed Japan's ties with China were recovering after Beijing released the last of four Japanese workers it had held for filming a military site. China freed Sadamu Takahashi on bail Saturday, nine days after freeing his three fellow construction workers, who had been detained since September 20 in the northern province of Hebei amid a diplomatic storm. China's Xinhua news agency reported Takahashi had been ordered to write a "statement of repentance". Kan told reporters: "I believe various things are returning to where they were before." Takahashi's release came five days after Kan and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao met in Brussels amid efforts to ease tensions following Japan's arrest of a Chinese captain for ramming his trawler into Japanese coastguard boats in disputed waters in the East China Sea.

Kan said he had agreed with Wen to "resume high-level political exchanges" suspended following the sea incident. The captain was released on September 25. "This is already on the move," he added. The other three Japanese were released on September 30 after admitting to violating Chinese law. China has denied their arrests were related to the sea incident. But Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara said he would ask Beijing why Takahashi's detention had been so prolonged. "We want to request explanations from the Chinese side about why he was placed under so-called residential surveillance for such a long period of time," Maehara told public broadcaster NHK. According to the Jiji Press news agency, Takahashi arrived in Shanghai from Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hubei, late Saturday and was to leave for Tokyo Sunday morning.
by Staff Writers
Hanoi (AFP) Oct 10, 2010
Defence ministers from the United States and China meet key Asian counterparts Tuesday for the highest-level security talks ever held in a region where tensions are rising over Beijing's assertiveness.

The ASEAN-led meeting in Vietnam comes against the backdrop of the worst row in years between China and Japan, and a renewed US diplomatic push in Southeast Asia, where concern is growing over Chinese activity in the South China Sea.

Japanese Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said Friday he would meet his US counterpart Robert Gates in Hanoi to discuss how to deal with China's increasing naval presence.

China issued threats and cut all high-level diplomatic contact with Tokyo after the September 8 arrest by Japan of a Chinese trawler captain. His boat collided with two Japanese coastguard vessels near a disputed East China Sea island chain, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

Japan released the captain in late September but two Chinese fishery patrol boats sent to the area did not withdraw until last Wednesday, Tokyo said.

Kitazawa said he hoped to meet his Chinese counterpart Liang Guanglie on the fringes of the Hanoi forum.

"Between Japan and China, I would like to propose establishing a mechanism to resolve accidental incidents," he said, describing the East China Sea security environment as "getting severe and volatile".

Last month a Japanese defence paper voiced concern over China's growing military muscle, after a US Defence Department report in August said China was ramping up investment in an array of areas including nuclear weapons, long-range missiles, submarines, aircraft carriers and cyber warfare.

The report predicted Beijing may step up patrols in the South China Sea, where China claims sovereignty over the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos, as do Vietnam and other Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries.

At the second annual ASEAN-US leaders' summit last month both sides agreed on the importance of "freedom of navigation" including in the South China Sea.

China vehemently opposes "internationalising" its territorial wrangles and had warned the US not to get involved in the maritime sovereignty dispute.

Vietnam last week demanded the release of a vessel and its crew seized by China one month ago while fishing in the Paracels -- the latest of numerous similar cases reported by Hanoi since last year.

At a meeting of regional foreign ministers in July, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said resolving disputes over the South China Sea is "pivotal" to regional stability. Other delegates also raised the matter, sparking anger from China, diplomats said.

They said there has been Chinese pressure for this week's meeting to avoid discussion of the South China Sea.

China has also objected to US military exercises with South Korea in the Yellow Sea. They followed a March torpedo attack on a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors and which the US and South Korea blamed on North Korea.

The incident sharply raised regional tensions.

Despite such strains in the relationship, analysts see a positive sign in expected bilateral talks, on the sidelines of the Hanoi forum, between US Defence Secretary Gates and his Chinese counterpart.

China in January suspended military contact with the US over American plans to sell military equipment to Taiwan but after a 10-month break the US and China agreed late last month to resume contact.

Vietnam will host Tuesday's day-long talks -- known as the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting Plus -- because it is this year's chairman of the 10-member ASEAN bloc.

The meeting will be the first-ever between the ASEAN ministers and their eight regional partners: Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the US.

"I think overall it's quite significant because this is the first time that you will have the defence ministers from 18 Asia-Pacific countries in one room," said Ian Storey, a regional security analyst at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) in Singapore.

But the region already has an annual security dialogue of foreign ministers, the 27-member ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which has been dismissed as a "talk shop" with little influence on the region's many conflicts.

ASEAN members proposed that the new forum focus on counter-terrorism, disaster relief, maritime security, military medicine and peacekeeping.

"Its utility will be called into question if it doesn't address some of the hard security issues in Asia-Pacific, like the Korean peninsula, like the South China Sea," Storey said.

Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh of Vietnam said the forum will not avoid sensitive issues -- but ministers do not want "a war words".

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Ankara (AFP) Oct 7, 2010
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