Sunday, September 16, 2012

• Asian territory disputes could trigger war, warns Panetta

TOKYO: China and other Asian countries could end up 
at war over territorial disputes if governments keep up their "provocative 
behaviour", US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said on Sunday

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Speaking to reporters before arriving in Tokyo on a trip to Asia, Panetta appealed for restraint amid mounting tensions over territorial rights in the East China Sea and the South China Sea.

"I am concerned that when these countries engage in provocations of one kind or another over these various islands, that it raises the possibility that a misjudgment on one side or the other could result in violence, and could result in conflict," Panetta said, when asked about a clash between Japan and China.

"And that conflict would then have the potential of expanding."

The Pentagon chief's trip coincides with an escalating row between Asia's two largest economies over an archipelago in the East China Sea administered by Tokyo under the name Senkaku and claimed by China under the name Diaoyu.

Tensions have steadily mounted since pro-Beijing activists were arrested and deported after landing on one of the islands in August. Japanese nationalists then followed, raising their flag on the same island days later.

On Tuesday, Japan announced it had nationalised three of the islands in the chain, triggering protests in China. Tokyo already owns another and leases the fifth.

The uninhabited islands are in important sea lanes and the seabed nearby is thought to harbour valuable mineral resources.

Sometimes violent demonstrations have been held in China near diplomatic missions in the days since Tokyo's announcement, although there have been no reports of deaths or serious injuries.

Hong Kong broadcaster Cable TV showed footage of clashes Sunday in Shenzhen between riot police and demonstrators, with some holding a banner calling for a "bloodbath" in Tokyo.

Panetta said he and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "both strongly urge that these countries -- rather than engaging in that provocative behaviour -- engage in an effort to find ways to peacefully resolve these kind of issues".

Panetta is due to hold talks on Monday with his Japanese counterpart where the dispute is expected to top the agenda before heading to China and then on to New Zealand.

He predicted economic rivalry would lead to more feuds in the future over potentially resource-rich areas in the Asia-Pacific region.

"We're going to face more of this. Countries are searching for resources," he said, adding: "There's got to be a peaceful way to resolve these issues."

"What we don't want is to have any kind of provocative behaviour on the part of China or anybody else result in conflict."

Territorial disputes in the South China Sea also have Washington worried, as China has refused to withdraw claims to virtually all of the strategic waterway and has been accused of bullying smaller states in the area.

The Philippines and Vietnam have alleged Beijing has used intimidation to push its claims in the South China Sea, through which around half of the world's cargo passes.

The United States has backed an effort by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to seek a code to govern access to the sea, which would establish rules and a formal dialogue to prevent incidents from escalating into full-blown conflict.

Panetta's trip is part of a bid by President Barack Obama to shift Washington's diplomatic and military focus to Asia, amid concern over China's growing power and assertive stance.

But sceptics question if the Pentagon has the resources to exert sufficient influence in Asia, especially when it must contend with repeated crises in the Middle East

BEIJING: Thousands of anti-Japanese demonstrators mounted protests in cities across China on Sunday over disputed islands in the East China Sea, a day after an attempt to storm Tokyo's embassy in the capital.

Beijing was infuriated last week when Japan said it had bought the rocky outcrops and while the authorities often suppress demonstrations, many of Sunday's events took place with police escorting marchers, while state-run media called the protests "reasonable".

Still, there were reports of violence. Demonstrators in the southern city of Shenzhen - some holding a banner calling for a "bloodbath" in Tokyo - clashed with riot police, who fired tear gas to disperse the crowd, Hong Kong broadcaster Cable TV showed.

It also showed footage of more than 1,000 protesters burning Japanese flags in nearby Guangzhou and storming a hotel next to the Japanese consulate. Chinese state media reported a turnout of more than 10,000 in the city.

Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda called on China to ensure the safety of Japanese citizens and businesses after widespread protests on Saturday saw attacks on individuals, establishments and Japanese-built cars.

"This situation is a great disappointment and so we are protesting" to China, he told Fuji Television.

Japanese media said that Panasonic, whose production line in Qingdao was damaged by protesters on Saturday, had decided to suspend operations at the factory until at least Tuesday.

About 10 employees had shouted anti-Japan slogans, the Kyodo News agency said. The relationship between China and Japan, the world's second and third largest economies, is often strained by their historical rivalry even though they have significant business links. The row over the islands, which Tokyo administers and calls Senkaku while Beijing claims them and knows them as Diaoyu, has heightened in recent weeks.

Six Chinese ships sailed into waters around the disputed archipelago on Friday, with Beijing saying they were there for "law enforcement", prompting Tokyo to summon the Chinese ambassador to protest what it called a territorial incursion.

The mission was "successful" in asserting Beijing's jurisdiction over the islands, Xiao Huiwu, deputy head of the China Marine Surveillance agency, told Xinhua, as it "achieved the goal of demonstrating China's sovereignty claim and ensured the country's maritime interests".

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, speaking before arriving in Tokyo on a trip to Asia, warned on Sunday that China and other Asian countries could end up at war over territorial disputes if governments keep up "provocative behaviour", as he referred to tensions in both the East China Sea and South China Sea.

Pictures posted on Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter, showed marches on Sunday in half a dozen cities around the country, while the state-run Xinhua news agency reported protests in five others. Japanese media however said the protests had spread to "at least 108 cities" across China.

In Beijing, thousands of protesters gathered outside the Japanese embassy, carrying posters of Mao Zedong and Japanese flags scrawled with obscenities, throwing beer bottles and singing the national anthem.

But large numbers of police escorted the protesters as they marched past the building, while volunteers wearing red armbands gave food and water to demonstrators and a medical team stood by. In Shanghai, where there were major protests on Saturday, more than 1,000 demonstrators gathered outside the Japanese consulate, one group chanting "Down with little Japan." Police blocked off roads using shipping containers and plastic barriers, but guided marchers through police lines to protest in front of the building.

One Weibo user in the southeastern city of Quanzhou contacted by AFP said: "There's no violence, just peaceful marches under police guidance." Hundreds of protesters also marched to the Japanese consulate in the former British colony of Hong Kong. Microbloggers questioned whether Sunday's demonstrations were spontaneous.

"Such large-scale uniform banners and dresses cannot be made in one day. Do you really believe it's people-initiated?" wrote a Weibo user named Linglingqi. Another named Afraxafra said: "I feel such a massive demonstration definitely cannot be organised by a small number of average people." Xinhua said that companies and "social groups" organised some protests, while others were publicised through online forums and messaging services. A commentary from the agency called the weekend protests "a reasonable move and natural reaction" to Japanese "provocation" and urged Tokyo to take notice, even as it warned protesters against damaging property.

China National Radio said 1,000 Chinese fishing boats were preparing to head to the disputed waters after the fishing season in the area resumed. Another flashpoint could be Tuesday's anniversary of the 1931 "Mukden incident" that led to Japan's invasion of Manchuria, which is commemorated every year in China.