China and Japan alone should resolve their dispute over contested islands in the East China Sea, Beijing said Tuesday, rejecting a US offer for three-way talks to address the simmering row.
The Asian neighbours have been locked in their worst diplomatic spat for years since Tokyo arrested a Chinese trawler captain involved in a collision with two Japanese coastguard vessels near the islets in early September.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stepped into the fray last week at a regional summit in Vietnam, telling both sides that Washington was willing to host a trilateral meeting to ease tensions, but Beijing baulked at the notion.
"I want to emphasise that this is only a US idea," foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said Tuesday in a statement.
"China always believes that we should make full use of the current various dialogue and cooperation mechanisms in the Asia Pacific region," Ma said.
"The territorial dispute between China and Japan over the Diaoyu islands is the business of the two nations only."
Both sides claim the potentially resource-rich islets, which are known as the Diaoyus in China and Senkakus in Japan, as their own. Taiwan also has a claim to the uninhabited rocky outcrops, which are administered by Japan.
Beijing has maintained its anger even after the Chinese boat captain was released, cancelling a series of meetings and insisting the arrest was illegal and invalid.
Clinton said in Hanoi that she had told China and Japan that the United States was "more than willing to host a trilateral where we would bring Japan and China and their foreign ministers together to discuss a range of issues".
She had already angered Beijing by saying that the islands fall within the scope of the US-Japan security alliance -- a position Ma on Tuesday rejected as "extremely wrong".
"What the US should do is immediately rectify this wrong position," he said.
Japanese lawmakers said Monday that a coast guard video of the maritime incident clearly shows that the Chinese boat was to blame, and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan reiterated that the islands belonged to Tokyo.
Hopes that the two sides would make some progress in Vietnam evaporated when China accused Japan of making false statements, and an anticipated meeting of Kan and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao morphed into brief, informal talks.
They nevertheless pledged to speak at greater length in the future and to "continue making efforts on promoting a strategic, mutually beneficial relationship", according to a Japanese official.
China's state media has revived a bruising anti-Japan campaign in recent days, branding Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara an "extremist" and on Tuesday taking Tokyo to task for what it said was its nationalistic fervour.
"Asia is witnessing an overflow of nationalism. Disputes over a few islands in the western Pacific will probably shift East Asia's attention from cooperation to antagonism," the official Global Times newspaper said.
"Japan is setting a bad example in this process," said the paper, a sister publication of the Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily.
The row has sparked nationalistic protests in both China and Japan in recent weeks.