U.S. worries about land disputes in East Asia

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U.S. worries about land disputes in East Asia

The United States yesterday expressed deep concern over the escalating tension in East Asia due to territorial disputes and called for a peaceful dialogue among Korea, Japan and China.

“This [region] is the cockpit of the global economy and the stakes could not be bigger and the desire is to have all leaders to keep that squarely in mind,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell told reporters in Washington yesterday. “We think in the current environment we want cooler heads to prevail, frankly.”

Concerns have been mounting about tensions between Korea and Japan and Japan and China over territory issues.

Prior to Campbell’s remarks, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also urged the East Asian countries, including Korea, to cool down on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vladivostok, Russia. She said that it was “not in the interest of the U.S. or the rest of the world to raise doubts and uncertainties about the stability and peace in the region.”

So far, no definite solution has been suggested by the U.S. nor has it taken any sides in either of the two currently debated territorial disputes.

“We have enormous stakes in the maintenance of peace and stability,” Campbell said. “We believe that peaceful dialogue and the maintenance of peace and stability is of utmost importance always but particularly now in this set of circumstances.”

For Korea and Japan, controversy over claims to the Dokdo islets was sparked on Aug. 10 when President Lee Myung-bak visited the islets, becoming the first Korean leader to do so. Lee’s visit to Korea’s easternmost islets drew harsh criticism from Japan, which immediately proposed Korea take the Dokdo issue to the International Court of Justice. Korea said there was no need because “there is no territorial dispute in the islets that belong to Korea.”

A territorial dispute between Japan and China has also gained renewed prominence in recent months since a group of Hong Kong activists landed on the Senkaku Islands, effectively controlled by Japan. China calls the islands the Diaoyu Islands. Tension escalated on Tuesday when the Chinese government sent two patrol ships to the disputed islands to reassert its claims after Japan announced it has signed a contract to purchase three of the five islets from private Japanese landowners to nationalize them.

Concerns about the territorial issues could also effect economic ties and local businesses.

In Korea, a survey conducted by the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry between late August and early September showed that 64.7 percent of the 500 Korean companies polled expect to suffer some damage if Korea-Japan tensions are protracted.

“One stumbling block to pan-Asian cooperation is the rise of nationalism in all three major countries,” said Willy Lam, professor of history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “The most important thing now is that the three Asian giants should separate politics from economics: They must not use economic weapons to solve political, including sovereignty-related, quarrels.”

For example, “Japan made a mistake about threatening not to buy Korean bonds,” Lam said.

“Economic cooperation is the one factor that can pull these nations together,” he continued, “so it is imperative that diplomatic rows do not affect economic cooperation.”

By Lee Eun-joo [angie@joongang.co.kr]

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