NEW YORK — US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Japan Thursday to pursue dialogue with China in a bid to resolve quickly a row over a Chinese trawler captain detained near islands claimed by both countries.
The United States also stressed the need to avoid an escalation of the row as Japanese media reported Clinton told Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara in New York that the islands are covered by the Japan-US security treaty.
Clinton spokesman Philip Crowley later confirmed the US stance.
"We do believe that, because the Senkaku islands are under Japanese jurisdiction, that it is covered by the US-Japan security treaty. That said, we also stressed that we don't take a position on the sovereignty of the Senkaku islands."
Under the 1960 treaty, the United States is obliged to defend Japan against any attack on a territory under Tokyo's administration.
China's premier Wen Jiabao has threatened "further actions" if Japan does not release the trawler captain, who was detained September 7 by the Japanese coast guard near the islands in the East China Sea between Taiwan and Japan's Okinawa island.
China has summoned Japan's ambassador five times, demanded the release of the boat's captain and scrapped talks on joint exploration of a gas field near the disputed islands known as the Dadirectlyioyu islands in China.
Meanwhile Friday in a moved ramping up the dispute, China held four Japanese nationals for entering a restricted military zone and "illegally filming defense targets", according to China's Xinhua news agency.
In meeting with Maehara, Clinton sought to "encourage dialogue and (voiced) hope that the issue can be resolved soon," Crowley said, adding that Japan-China ties "are vitally important to regional stability."
Maehara told the chief US diplomat that Tokyo is trying to resolve the row based on its legal process and international law, Crowley told reporters after the meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.
"We are not mediating per se. We have not been asked to play a particular role," he said, adding that this is an an issue two "mature countries" like China and Japan are "fully capable of resolving."
"Our sense is that neither side wants to see this situation escalate to the point that has long-term regional impact," Crowley said.
He added: "We continue to encourage both sides to do everything to resolve it and certainly not to escalate it."
US President Barack Obama met Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan in New York, hours after holding talks with China's Premier Wen Jiabao, amid the heightened tensions between Tokyo and Beijing.
Obama said the US-Japan alliance was a "cornerstone" of global security, as his top White House policy aide Jeff Bader said Washington hoped the Japan-China dispute could be resolved peacefully.
"These two countries have a history with each other, there are nationalist sentiments in both countries that can be stirred up should the problem stagnate," Bader said.
"We do want to see calm and restraint on both sides, we do want to see them resolve it diplomatically soon."
When Obama met Wen, the president did not raise the East China Sea incident, though he did say Washington supported solving China's other territorial rows with Asian nations in the South China Sea through negotiations.
Maehara's press secretary Satoru Satoh told AFP late Wednesday that Japan wants to communicate with China but that no meetings are planned yet between Japanese and Chinese officials in New York.
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