BEIJING -- China on Thursday assailed Japan's prime minister as obstinate and wrong for saying his nation won't compromise in their island dispute, as Japanese lawmakers and business leaders visited Beijing with hopes of mending ties.
Relations between Japan and China are at their lowest in years because of their spat over the island group in the East China Sea known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. Japan says it bought the islands this month to thwart Japanese nationalists' more radical plans to develop them. But China saw the move as wrecking a prior arrangement with Tokyo, and it and many Chinese have responded with outrage.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said in New York on Wednesday that the islands are clearly an "inherent part of our territory, in light of history and international law." He said that issues over the islands should be resolved peacefully and by the rule of law.
In response, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Thursday that "China is strongly disappointed and sternly opposes the Japanese leader's obstinacy regarding his wrong position." His statement repeated China's stance that Japan was ignoring historical facts and international laws.
"The country seriously challenges the postwar international order, but tries to take the rules of international law as a cover. This is self-deceiving," Qin said in a separate statement.
Senior diplomats from the two countries have met this week in New York and Beijing in an attempt to patch things over. But China still scrapped long-planned festivities scheduled this weekend to mark 40 years of diplomatic relations between the countries.
Instead, Jia Qinglin, a senior Communist Party official, met with members of the China-Japan Friendship Association on Thursday. He struck a friendly note by welcoming the Japanese elder statesmen as "old friends of the Chinese people" who had worked hard to promote exchanges and cooperation in economic, political and cultural areas.
But in remarks released by the Foreign Ministry, Jia reiterated China's position on the island dispute, and said Japan's actions had "pushed China-Japan relations to an unprecedented grim phase."
Yohei Kono, a former Japanese foreign minister, referred to the strife when he told his Chinese hosts he had come to Beijing "this time with a heavy heart."
The islands, held by Japan, are tiny and uninhabited but sit astride rich fishing waters and potentially large reserves of natural gas. They are also claimed by Taiwan.
Japan's purchase of some of the islands from their private Japanese owners two weeks ago sparked sometimes-violent protests in China that targeted Japanese-owned stores and factories.
Noda defended the purchase as an attempt to ensure their "stable management," but conceded, "It seems that China has yet to understand that."