China, Japan agree to talk more over the phone

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 October, 2008, 12:00am

China and Japan agreed yesterday to improve communications by conducting more 'timely' exchanges over the phone, as Taro Aso met Chinese leaders in his first visit as Japan's prime minister.

Mr Aso raised the idea with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao in separate meetings before the opening of the Asia-Europe Meeting in Beijing.

The meetings were the first between the new Japanese leader and Beijing since Mr Aso was elected to replace Yasuo Fukuda as prime minister last month.

Japanese Foreign Ministry press secretary Kazuo Kodama said the meetings had been fruitful, and described the exchanges between Mr Aso and Mr Wen as lively and candid.

'Both leaders confirmed the further promotion of the mutually beneficial Sino-Japanese relationship,' he said.

Mr Aso also suggested both sides should have timely communication at the highest level over the telephone. Mr Kodama said the Chinese leaders had welcomed the proposal but denied reports that the mechanism would take the form of a hotline.

'The idea is really not to immediately set up a hotline with a special phone receiver on both sides,' he said.

'Rather, Mr Aso emphasised the importance of having much more frequent communication, even over the telephone line.'

An outspoken conservative, Mr Aso was expected to adopt a hard-line approach in dealing with its long-time rival. He did not visit Beijing between 2005 and last year when he was foreign minister under Junichiro Koizumi and Shinzo Abe. Mr Aso is also on record as defending Mr Koizumi's visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, where Class A war criminals are honoured - a sore point with Beijing.

But in his speech at the United Nations General Assembly last month, Mr Aso described China and South Korea as important partners and said Japan would work closely with them.

In a gesture of goodwill, Mr Aso attended a reception yesterday to mark the 30th anniversary of the peace and friendship treaty between Beijing and Tokyo.

He also raised the safety of mainland-manufactured food products during the meetings.

'Mr Aso mentioned that he hoped China would squarely look at the issue of the anxiety of mistrust on the issue of food safety by the Chinese and Japanese people,' Mr Kodama said.

Food safety has become the latest source of tension in Sino-Japanese relations since insecticide-contaminated dumplings made in a Hebei factory made about 20 people ill in Japan late last year.

The investigation into the source of the contamination, which includes representatives from both countries, has dragged on for months. Investigators have yet to reach a conclusion because each side claims the products were sabotaged in the other country.

Plunging Japanese consumer confidence in Chinese products was hit further when Japanese authorities said they had found mainland-grown green beans contained about 34,000 times the permitted level of dichlorvos, a highly toxic insecticide.

Mr Kodama also said Mr Aso had suggested drafting a bilateral agreement to implement a deal to jointly explore the East China Sea.