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France stays neutral in E. China Sea row

PARIS--France has joined the United States in refusing to publicly take sides in the dispute between Japan and China over islands in waters between the two Asian powers.

“Concerning the East China Sea, France is following the evolution of the situation closely,” the French Foreign Ministry's deputy spokesman, Vincent Floreani, said Wednesday.

“Japan and China are two important partners with which France has close and frank relations. France wants to see a peaceful resolution of this crisis in conformity with international law.”

The spokesman added that this position had been reiterated by Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in a meeting Tuesday with Koichiro Gemba, his Japanese counterpart.

Gemba, currently on a European tour that also takes in Britain and Germany, had been expected to spell out Tokyo's position that China has no valid claim to the uninhabited but potentially resource-rich Senkaku islands, which are called the Diaoyu islands by the Chinese.

Japanese officials had acknowledged prior to Gemba's visit that there was little chance of any of the European countries coming out publicly on Tokyo's side for fear of damaging relations with China.

A joint statement issued after Gemba's meeting with Fabius said the two countries had agreed to continue working towards the establishment of a special partnership founded on common values of democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law.

They also approved a “roadmap” for the deepening of cooperation in three areas: political dialogue, economic cooperation and cultural/scientific exchanges.

The United States has said that it takes no position on the islands dispute but officials have offered Japan a degree of reassurance by making it clear that its security treaty with Japan covers all areas under Tokyo's control.

That includes the islands which have been the subject of tensions since they were bought by the Japanese state from a private owner earlier this year.

The Japanese government says it acted to prevent the islands falling into the hands of the nationalist governor of Tokyo but that failed to stem a wave of anti-Japanese protests in China and there have been a series of clashes between coastguards and Chinese ships which have entered waters around the islands.

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