Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan on Friday rejected any concession in a standoff with China over a group of islands claimed by both countries, declining to even acknowledge that the islands are disputed.
At a news conference following his attendance at the United Nations General Assembly, Mr. Abe said he was open to dialogue with China about the islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, and that he did not want their disagreement to infect the broader relationship between the two countries.
But Mr. Abe, a conservative who wants to strengthen Japan's military, made clear that for Japan the question of who owned the uninhabited islands in the East China Sea was not open to negotiation.
"Concerning the Senkaku islands, Senkaku is an inherent part of the territory of Japan in light of historical facts and based upon international law, and the islands are under the valid control of Japan," he said through an interpreter. "However the invasion by Chinese government vessels in our territorial waters are continuing, to our regret."
He also said "Japan would not make a concession on our territorial sovereignty" regarding the islands but that "having said so, we do not intend to escalate this issue any further."
Mr. Abe appeared to be responding in part to remarks by Wang Yi, China's foreign minister, who said at an appearance last week at the Brookings Institution in Washington that China wanted to resolve the issue peacefully but that Japan had to first acknowledge that ownership of the islands is in dispute.
Japan has administered the islands for decades, but China regards Japanese claims to the islands as a resonant reminder of Japanese militarism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Japan counters that China did not express interest in the islands until recent decades after reports that the seabed nearby might contain oil and gas.
Japanese officials have expressed growing concern about China's sovereignty assertions over the islands. For months, the two countries' patrol boats have played cat-and-mouse games near the islands. A few weeks ago, at least seven Chinese patrol ships entered waters surrounding the islands, and Japanese air force jets were scrambled after a drone aircraft was detected in the region, which Japanese officials have suggested was dispatched by China.
Mr. Abe, who came to power in December, has said he might place government officials on the islands, which could further escalate the confrontation with China. While Mr. Abe did not reiterate that possibility on Friday, his chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, told reporters in Japan a few weeks ago that it was among the options under consideration.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.