Chinese, Japanese premiers hold highest-level meeting since spat broke out over islands

By Scott Mcdonald, AP
Monday, October 4, 2010

Chinese, Japanese leaders meet in Europe

BEIJING — Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao met Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on the sidelines of a meeting in Europe in the highest-level contact between the countries since a bitter diplomatic feud broke out a month ago over disputed islands, both countries confirmed Tuesday.

Wen and Kan met briefly Monday in Brussels where both were attending the Asia-Europe Meeting and agreed to improve bilateral ties and to hold senior-level talks.

Relations between the Asian neighbors — the world’s second- and third-biggest economies — have been strained since a Chinese fishing boat collided with Japan Coast Guard vessels in early September near the islands in the East China Sea, which are claimed by both countries as well as Taiwan.

“Both parties agreed to strengthen non-governmental exchanges and communications between the governments, and to hold high-level Chinese-Japanese talks at the appropriate time,” said a statement posted on the website of the Chinese Foreign Ministry .

It said Wen reiterated that the uninhabited islands — called Diaoyu by China and Senkaku by Japan — belong to China, while Japan’s Kyodo news agency said Kan said they were Japanese territory.

In Tokyo, Kan’s office confirmed the two met for about 25 minutes. Kan was returning to Tokyo on Tuesday after skipping the second day of the summit. Kyodo said the two meet in a corridor outside the conference venue. The meeting was a surprise as there had been no reported plans to hold one.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels, Kan said he and Wen reconfirmed their countries’ commitment to strengthening “mutually strategic relations.”

“We agreed on the need to return to that starting point and move forward from there,” Kan said on public broadcaster NHK.

The collision and Japan’s detention of the fishing boat captain plunged bilateral relations to their lowest level in five years, although moves appeared to be have taken in the last week to put ties back on track.

The incident stirred up nationalism in both countries. Beijing suspended ministerial-level talks with Tokyo and postponed talks on jointly developing undersea gas fields. Japan released the captain, but Beijing shocked Tokyo by demanding an apology.

A thaw began last week when Beijing lifted a de facto export ban on rare earth materials needed in Japan for advanced manufacturing and released three of four Japanese detained for questioning after allegedly entering a restricted military zone in northern China. The four were in China preparing a bid for a project to dispose of chemical weapons abandoned by the Japanese military at the end of World War II, according to their employer, Japanese construction company Fujita Corp.

Tokyo is pressing China to release the fourth man who remains under house arrest and was being investigated for illegally videotaping military targets.

The meeting in Brussels may boost bilateral relations before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in Yokohama on Nov. 13-14, which Chinese President Hu Jintao will attend.


Associated Press writer Tomoko A. Hosaka in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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