China cautions Japan not to 'shift the blame' on row

The row, which began seven weeks ago when the boat collided with two Japanese coastguard vessels near contested islands in the East China Sea, has put a severe strain on ties between the neighbours, Asia's top two economies.

Tokyo has accused Beijing of using its near-global monopoly on the trade in rare earths, minerals vital to Japanese high-tech manufacturers, as a weapon in the simmering spat -- an accusation rejected by a Chinese official today.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who met briefly early this month in Brussels, will be in Vietnam this week for an East Asian summit, but no talks have been scheduled thus far.

"Japan's illegal detention of the Chinese fisherman and fishing boat off the Diaoyu islands is a fundamental cause of the deterioration of the situation," foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu told reporters.

"Any attempt by Japan to shift the blame on the Chinese side will not get anywhere."

The islands, known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan, lie in an area that has rich fishing grounds and is believed to contain oil and natural gas reserves.

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