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Gov't rejects souring Japan ties claims

TAIPEI--Presidential Office spokesperson Fan Chiang Tai-chi said yesterday Taiwan-Japan relations remained tight and dismissed a report that speculated the level of officials receiving Japanese lawmakers at a meeting during National Day celebrations had been downgraded due to the Diaoyutai territorial dispute.

The president actually met 26 Japanese lawmakers prior to National Day celebrations, Fan Chiang said, adding that lawmakers Takao Fujii and Yasuhiro Oe even gave Ma big hugs during the meeting.

Fan Chiang's remarks were in response to a report by Taipei-based China Times that said over the past few years it has become a custom for Ma to attend a lunch-box meeting with Japanese lawmakers as part of National Day celebrations.

The report went on to say that this year, only Liao Liou-yi, chairman of the Association of East Asian Relations under the Foreign Ministry, and Presidential Office Secretary-General Timothy Yang were present at a meeting that was attended by a number of the lawmakers.

Fan Chiang also dismissed the report's claim that a lunch-box meeting was a custom, saying that Ma has only held two such meetings with Japanese lawmakers since he took office in 2008 — one at the 2008 presidential inauguration ceremony and the other at National Day celebrations in 2011.

Meanwhile, the Sankei Shimbun, a Japanese business daily, said a delegation of Japanese lawmakers was in Taiwan to attend National Day celebrations, but decided not to participate after learning that President Ma Ying-jeou would touch on the Diaoyutai territorial dispute in his National Day speech.

Most of the lawmakers from the delegation departed earlier than scheduled, but three of them attended the National Day reception at the Taipei Guest House, Foreign Ministry spokesman Steve Hsia said Thursday at a press conference.

The long-simmering dispute came to a head last month after Japan nationalized the island cluster by buying three islets from their private owner on Sept. 11 in an attempt to reinforce its sovereignty claim.

In his National Day address, Ma reaffirmed his administration's resolve to defend sovereignty over the Diaoyutais and fishing rights, as well as to promote regional peace.

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