Visiting US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta appealed for a peaceful resolution to the territorial row between China and Japan during talks with presidential successor Xi Jinping in Beijing.

Mr. Panetta warned that the dispute could put a strain on economic relations between the two largest economies in Asia. Mr. Xi, on his first public international meeting after cancelling several high-level talks during his mysterious absence, remarked that Japan should “rein in its behaviour” and called its purchase of the disputed islands a “farce”, Xinhua reports.

China’s Ministry of Commerce spokesman Shen Danyang remarked that the row could strain economic and trade relations between the two Asian superpowers and a potential trilateral free-trade agreement with South Korea.”We don’t want to see it happen, but Japan must take full responsibility for it,” Mr. Shen told the Financial Times.

Relations between Japan and South Korea took a turn for the worse over a group of islands in the Sea of Japan and threatened Korean businesses in Tokyo. Tensions in the East China Sea are permeating through the region as protesters have been filling the streets across China since Japan announced it had nationalized the islets. Japanese companies were forced to close down operations for several days and remained cautious even as protests seemed to die down.

Mr. Panetta, on a week-long trip to Asia, said that the US wants to “play a positive role” in helping to settle the dispute between China and Japan. Mr. Panetta paid a visit to Tokyo earlier this week.