Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe could soon hold a summit meeting with President Xi Jinping , an adviser to Abe said yesterday, adding that he had met senior officials close to Xi on a secret visit to Beijing this month.
Abe called on Friday for an unconditional meeting between his country and China as soon as possible. While Abe's call drew a cool reaction from Beijing, his adviser, Isao Iijima, said Chinese leaders were considering it and he believed they would respond positively.
"I feel they are troubled by it, they are deeply thinking about it," Iijima said when asked about the call for a summit.
"I don't think it will take that long" before they meet, he said on the sidelines of a speech in his hometown in central Japan.
Iijima, who made a surprise visit to North Korea in May, declined to identify the people he met in China or give details of the discussions he said were held over two days in mid-July.
"I went there to ask them what they really think," he said, stressing that the visit was private.
China, in responding to Abe's call, said its door was always open for talks but Japan should "stop using empty slogans about so-called dialogue to gloss over disagreements".
Iijima said his hope for a summit stemmed from the "atmosphere" of his meetings. He said he did not discuss matters related to North Korea.
On Friday, Japan's Defence Ministry issued a policy report repeating concerns about China's military build-up and its activities near disputed islands.
Iijima's comments came after a week of sabre-rattling by China after it launched its revamped coastguard on Tuesday and immediately sent four ships, emblazoned with the new red, white and blue logo, to patrol waters off disputed islands in the nearby East China Sea.
The message was clear: China planned to use the new unified paramilitary vessels to keep pressure on Japan over the sovereignty of the tiny islands, an issue that has roiled relations between the two countries.
At the same time as the newly designated coastguard vessels appeared in the waters on Wednesday, China sent a turboprop early-warning aircraft through international airspace between the islands of Okinawa and Miyako, an area where Japan said Chinese planes had not flown before.
The merger of four Chinese maritime units into one super-agency was announced in March. The actual creation of the new force has been nervously awaited in the Asia-Pacific region as another sign of China's fast-growing maritime capability and its determination to enforce claims in the South China Sea, as well as the East China Sea.
The large numbers of Chinese and Japanese maritime vessels in close proximity in the East China Sea at a time of high tensions over the islands has raised alarm in Washington about clashes that could lead to larger conflict.
A senior PLA Navy official, Zhang Junshe , vice-president of the Naval Research Institute, hailed the unification of China's maritime law-enforcement agencies under a new National Oceanic Administration as the creation of an "iron fist" that would replace ineffective operations scattered among a number of agencies.
At a conference on maritime safety in Beijing last week, four retired US admirals, three retired US defence attachés and a group of US maritime experts met Chinese officials to discuss the ramifications of the strengthened coastguard.
The new coastguard is a "positive development", said Susan Shirk, a former deputy assistant secretary of state, who organised the conference for the University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Co-operation.
Vessels of the fisheries law-enforcement agency have been particularly aggressive in the South China Sea over the past few years, and this kind of behaviour may be modified under the new structure, she said.
"It's good for China's neighbours and the United States, because we know who is responsible and who we can hold responsible. As they develop a sense of professionalism in accordance with international law, it should make for lower risk of accidents."
A Chinese naval expert, Li Jie , said the coastguard ships would most likely be outfitted with "light weaponry".
Japan's coastguard ships, which patrol the waters off the disputed islands, are armed with weapons including large deck guns, similar to those on board US Coast Guard vessels.
Shirk said: "The Chinese coastguard will model themselves on the United States, and the Japanese and the South Korean coastguards, all of which are more capable with equipment than the Chinese coastguard at the moment."
Reuters, The New York Times