Top diplomats from China and Japan met to discuss the territorial dispute over the uninhabited Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, Tokyo said yesterday, signalling mutual willingness to ease tension ahead of a key Communist Party congress.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura confirmed domestic media reports that Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister Chikao Kawai met senior Chinese officials in Shanghai last week to discuss the dispute over the islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan. Kyodo reported earlier that Zhang Zhijun , Kawai's counterpart, attended the meeting.
The two countries agreed earlier this month to hold vice-ministerial talks at an unspecified date over the dispute sparked by Japan's purchase of the islands.
"This was part of communication at various levels between Japan and China over the current situation," said Fujimura.
Beijing has been talking tough since Japan announced the purchase plan last month. In talks on Tuesday with a group of former senior US officials, including former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage, Vice-Premier Li Keqiang said Beijing would not compromise with Japan in the dispute.
The Japanese coastguard said on Tuesday that three Chinese military vessels were spotted in border waters off Okinawa.
"Both sides would like to keep the talks [in Shanghai] at a low profile because it is unlikely that there will be any breakthrough," said Professor Lian Degui of the Shanghai Institute for International Studies.
But analysts expected lingering tension to ease in the next couple of weeks as neither side wants to complicate the most politically sensitive event in China for years. The Communist Party will convene its national congress on November 8, where a new leadership to guide the world's second-biggest economy will be ushered in.
Lin Xiaoguang , a professor of international relations at the Central Party School, said any rise in tension with Japan ahead of the congress could trigger unease among Chinese leaders.
He referred to the brandishing of Mao Zedong's image at anti-Japan rallies last month - a sign that reflected public dissatisfaction with the current administration.
"The situation may get out of control if such rallies happened ahead of the congress," he said.