Syria tops UN agenda; China and Japan eye Diaoyu Islands dispute

Updated: 2012-09-25 10:51

By Zhang Yuwei at the United Nations and Zhao Shengnan in Beijing (China Daily)

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Syria tops UN agenda; China and Japan eye Diaoyu Islands dispute

More than 120 heads of state and government and chief diplomats gather this week in New York for debate and sideline meetings at the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly.

The general debate, a highlight of the annual assembly in which UN members' senior officials discuss pressing global issues, is expected to be dominated this year by Syria's ongoing crisis, a requested upgrade by Palestinians of their UN nonmember status and deadly protests sparked by an anti-Islamic video.

The debate, which government leaders and their foreign ministers begin Tuesday, also comes amid a struggle between Japan and its neighbors China and South Korea over control of islands in the South China Sea. Beijing's relations with Tokyo hit their lowest point in years since the stated Japanese "purchase" of parts of the Diaoyu Islands on Sept 10, a claim that ignited protests across China.

Last week the permanent Chinese representative to the UN, Li Baodong, submitted China's official baselines of the territorial waters of the islands and related islets to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, reinforcing Beijing's stance on the issue.

Li said he "stressed" to Ban that "the Diaoyu Islands have been an inalienable part of China's territory since ancient times".

"The Chinese people and government are determined and fully capable of defending our country's sovereignty and territorial integrity," Li told reporters after his meeting with the UN chief.

Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, leading a Chinese delegation, is in New York this week for the UN assembly. He will present China's views on the Diaoyu dispute as well as major international and regional matters, the Foreign Ministry said.

On Monday, Yang met with Ban and discussed topics including violence in Syria and the international community's need to resolve the conflict through peaceful means, as well as recent progress in negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan. The two men called for international action to address problems in Africa's Sahel region and stressed the importance of goals addressed at this year's UN sustainable-development conference in Rio de Janeiro.

Japan has said it will bring the Diaoyu Islands issue to the General Assembly. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is likely to speak the issue during his speech to the world body's delegates on Wednesday morning.

The speech by China's Yang is scheduled for Thursday, and he is expected to respond to Japan regarding the islands, experts said.

"The fact that PM Noda will talk about this at the GA will help bring this issue to the international limelight. This is not, as the Japanese government has suggested, a domestic issue," said Zhiqun Zhu, a professor of political science and international relations at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania.

"To move forward and to find a way out of the current stalemate, the Japanese government at least needs to accept the fact that the two countries are in dispute over the islands, and this is definitely not a Japanese domestic issue," he added.

Yang's Japanese counterpart is seeking to have a talk with the Chinese foreign minister on the sidelines of the UN meeting, possibly on Wednesday, in an effort to begin mending their nations' relationship, according to a Kyodo News report.

Noda, the prime minister, will call this week for implementing the rule of law as a principle in adjudicating territorial disputes. The Japanese leader, having expressed reluctance to talk directly to Beijing about the islands, intends to seek support at the UN for Tokyo's position, said Feng Wei, a specialist on Japanese studies at Fudan University in Shanghai.

Japan believes that direct negotiation with China would be seen as a willingness to compromise, since Tokyo has insisted that there is no territorial dispute over the islands, Feng said.

Zhang Xiao'an, vice-president of China's UN Association, said the annual debate provides a chance for members of the world body to articulate their stands on various issues. However, no breakthrough can be made unless related resolutions are adopted or at least proposed, he stressed.

Ban, the secretary general, said before this week's General Assembly that the 18-month-old Syrian conflict would be "foremost" on delegates' minds.

Over the weekend, Lakhdar Brahimi, the Algerian diplomat who is the UN's new special envoy to Syria, met with Ban to discuss his recent trip to the war-ravaged country. On Monday, Brahimi briefed the UN Security Council about the trip and his meeting with Syria's President Bashar al-Assad since taking the envoy post on Sept 1.

"I think there is no disagreement anywhere that the situation in Syria is extremely bad and getting worse, that it is a threat to the region and a threat to peace and security in the world," Brahimi told reporters after the council briefing.

"I think that we will find an opening in the not-too-distant future," he said, adding that he plans another visit to Syria after which he'll present the Security Council with "more ideas".

The council is also due to hold a meeting of foreign ministers on Wednesday to discuss links with the Arab League.

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Dong Fangyu contributed to this story.