China-Japan relations

Abe to prepare for resumption of top-level China dialogue

Tokyo responds to Beijing raising possibility of a summit to defuse tensions amid island dispute, but analysts doubt it will happen soon

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 January, 2013, 5:33am

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said yesterday that his administration would prepare for the resumption of top-level dialogue with China, Japanese media reported.

It came after Beijing said it would consider the possibility of holding a leaders' summit.

Analysts said Beijing and Tokyo appeared to be seeking a diplomatic breakthrough to ease strains caused by a territorial dispute over the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, which Japan calls the Senkakus. But these analysts cautioned that a meeting between Abe and Communist Party general secretary Xi Jinping would not be held any time soon, if it happened at all.

Natsuo Yamaguchi, the Japanese envoy who met Xi on Friday, briefed Abe yesterday on his four-day visit. He said Abe was pleased to hear that Xi was considering holding a summit on Sino-Japanese relations, Kyodo News Agency reported

"I think our prime minister wishes to visit China. [But for now] the priority is to resume dialogue [with China], which will ultimately push a summit for leaders of the two countries," Yamaguchi, head of New Komeito, Abe's junior coalition partner, was quoted by Kyodo as saying.

Abe was quoted as saying that it was important that Xi and Yamaguchi agreed on promoting the relationship between the two countries. Abe expressed his willingness to make efforts to improve ties with China, Japanese broadcaster NHK said.

Abe said the governing coalition would work for such an end.

Professor Niu Zhongjun , a Japan specialist at the China Foreign Affairs University, said there was still a long way to go for Beijing to bring Tokyo back to their previous understanding that the islands were "a disputed maritime area".

"The reopening of dialogue will help both countries resume bilateral ties, but it's still too early to expect Tokyo to return to the negotiation table over the Diaoyus dispute, which would mean it agrees that the sovereignty of the Diaoyus is in dispute," he said.

"We should watch what Abe will do in the near future rather than just focus on what he said, because many Japanese officials often just pay lip service."

Kyodo said Yamaguchi, who arrived in Beijing on Tuesday, had been notified that he would meet Xi just an hour before the scheduled time of the meeting.

"It seems like the Chinese side was still considering whether Yamaguchi was a person worth meeting," Kyodo quoted a Japanese diplomatic source as saying. The meeting between Xi and Yamaguchi was the highest-level contact between the two countries since the row over the Diaoyus intensified in September, when Japan announced it was buying three of the uninhabited islands. Both nations have sent military aircraft to areas around the islands since then, raising fears of armed clashes.