Honda chief hopes for end to China, Japan dispute

Honda chief Takanobu Ito expressed hope Monday that China and Japan will resolve their row over disputed islands given the key economic ties between the two countries.

"There is a lot of trust in the private sector between Japan and China. We're each counting on each other in the business world," Ito said, noting that he toured Honda facilities in December in the wake of the tensions.

"The Japanese and Chinese government I know are aware of this very large, very important economic relationship between our two countries and I hope they can proficiently carry out diplomacy."

Japan's ties with China have remained tense for months as the two nations repeatedly stage maritime standoffs in waters around the isles, called the Senkakus in Japan and the Diaoyus in China.

Japan's hawkish new prime minister took aim at Beijing again Friday, accusing China of deliberately allowing Japanese businesses to suffer due to the dispute and on Monday Tokyo said it would send two more patrol ships to boost its defense of the islands.

The outbreak of the tensions following Japan's decision to nationalize the East China Sea islands in September -- which sparked riots and a boycott of Japanese good in China -- has led to a slowdown in sales for Japan's second largest carmaker, Ito said.

But dealership traffic in China has now returned to about 90 percent of what it once was and about 70 percent of those customers end up buying a car, Ito said.

"I definitely feel our customers there are waiting for our products," Ito told reporters on the sidelines of the Detroit auto show.

While Ito said he did not feel comfortable evaluating the new Chinese or Japanese leadership, he said "it's common sense that this is important and I hope the politicians are aware of how important this is."

"There have been some problems, but there is a strong desire to return to that kind of growth that they've seen," he said through a translator.

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