U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged China and Japan on Thursday to let "cool heads" prevail in a festering dispute over a cluster of East China Sea islands.
Clinton met Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on the sidelines of this week's U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York and said it was important to ratchet down the quarrel over the islands that has soured ties between Asia's two largest economies, a senior State Department official said.
"The secretary ... again urged that cooler heads prevail, that Japan and China engage in dialogue to calm the waters," the official told reporters.
"We believe that Japan and China have the resources, have the restraint, have the ability to work on this directly and take tensions down, and that is our message to both sides," the official said.
Chinese foreign minister Yang used a portion of China's annual address to the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday night to restate Beijing's stance that the islands had belonged to China from ancient times.
Yang also condemned the Japanese government's purchase of the islands earlier this month from their private owner, a step that sparked protests across China.
"The moves taken by Japan are totally illegal and invalid," he said of the purchase, which Tokyo says was done to ease the dispute by preventing the islands' use by Japanese activists.
"They can in no way change the historical fact that Japan stole the Diaoyudao and affiliated islands and that China has sovereignty over them," Yang told the General Assembly. Diaoyudao is what China calls the main island in the cluster.
China's U.N. Ambassador Li Baodong also accused the Japanese envoy of "resorting to spurious, fallacious arguments that defy all reason and logic."
"The recent so-called purchase of the islands is nothing different than money laundering," he said, accusing Tokyo of buying stolen property when it acquired the islands this month.
In hour-long talks on the sidelines of the United Nations on Tuesday, Japan's Gemba urged China to exercise restraint over the dispute. Japanese diplomats described the meeting as "tense," as Gemba endured a stern lecture from China's Yang.
Yang called on Tokyo to handle the dispute through negotiation, and Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said "it is necessary for both countries to maintain and strengthen bilateral communications and respond to the issue calmly and with a broad perspective in mind."