NEW YORK - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday ruled out concessions on sovereignty in a tense territorial row with China but appealed to Beijing for talks to work through their differences.
Abe rejected a recent appeal from China which said it was ready for dialogue if Japan acknowledged that a set of islands - known as the Senkakus in Japanese and the Diaoyus in Chinese - were disputed.
"The Senkakus are 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," Abe told reporters in New York after taking part in the UN General Assembly.
"To our regret, incursions by Chinese government vessels in our territorial waters are continuing. But Japan will not make a concession on our territorial sovereignty," he said.
Abe, however, said that Japan sought calm and "we do not intend to escalate this issue any further."
He called for cooperation with China, saying that the relationship between Asia's two largest economies was critical for the region's security.
"The door to dialogue is always open and I really hope that the Chinese side would take a similar attitude and mindset," Abe said.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, speaking ahead of the UN General Assembly, said he supported talks but that Japan first had to declare that the islands are disputed.
"The whole world knows that there is a dispute," Wang said at the Brookings Institution in Washington last week.
In a speech Friday to the UN General Assembly, Wang said that China was open to talks on territorial disputes but would also "firmly safeguard" its sovereignty.
"We sincerely hope to properly resolve them through negotiation and consultation with countries directly resolved," Wang said. "Those disputes that cannot be resolved now can be shelved for future resolution," he said.
US seeks calm
Abe, a conservative who is the politically strongest Japanese leader in nearly a decade, has stepped up defence spending and advocated a firm line with China.
In an earlier speech to the Hudson Institute in New York, Abe said officially pacifist Japan should no longer be a "weak link" in global security nor for its ally the United States.
Japanese officials have voiced alarm at the rising number of Chinese ships that have approached the waters, charging that Beijing is using intimidation to challenge Tokyo.
Both countries claim the islands, whose status is linked in the view of many Chinese to Japan's past expansionism in Asia.
Japan says that China only took an interest in the islands when potentially lucrative energy reserves were discovered nearby several decades ago.
China is locked in an array of disputes with its neighbours, including the Philippines and Vietnam over islands in the South China Sea.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, meeting Friday with foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, urged them to quickly agree a code of conduct with Beijing that would manage incidents on the South China Sea.
"Your region is home to the world's busiest ports and the most critical sea lanes. So stability where you live matters deeply to prosperity where we live," Kerry said.
The United States says that it takes no position on sovereignty disputes but it recognises that Japan effectively controls the islands claimed by China, meaning that Washington is required by treaty to defend its ally in a conflict.