Senior officials in Beijing yesterday responded for the first time to new Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's hawkish rhetoric in the territorial dispute over the East China Sea by urging Tokyo to take "positive steps" to mend ties.
Top officials in Beijing said the appeal was made in talks between Abe's special envoy Natsuo Yamaguchi and two officials from the party's International Department, Wang Jiarui and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi , aimed at easing tensions over rival claims to the islands China calls the Diaoyus and Japan the Senkakus.
Abe adopted a tough approach towards Beijing after becoming prime minister last month, including bolstering ties with Southeast Asian nations also involved in territorial disputes with China.
Relations have been tense since September, when the Japanese government announced it was buying three of the islands. Both nations have sent military planes to areas around the islands, triggering fears of armed clashes.
Yang appeared to adopt a friendly tone during his talks with Yamaguchi, who is leader of the New Komeito party, a coalition partner in the Japanese government. "We hope the tour contributes to maintaining and pushing forward ties," Yang said.
Yang called for the development of ties based on the principles of four historical political documents agreed between the two nations. One of the established principles was respecting each other's sovereignty, and he said both countries should properly resolve territorial disputes through dialogue.
"I hope the new administration of Japan can implement positive and stable policies towards China, and take concrete actions to improve Sino-Japanese ties together with China," he said.
Yamaguchi said both countries should seek to resolve differences through dialogue, Xinhua reported.
In a separate meeting, Wang told Yamaguchi that friendly ties between the two nations were "hard to achieve", calling on Japan's government to overcome difficulties facing relations.
"It is normal for any relations between the two nations to be bumpy sometimes, and we have to strengthen communications to enhance mutual understanding during such a period," he said.
Yamaguchi, the first senior Japanese government politician to travel to Beijing since September, told both Yang and Wang that he wanted to hand a letter from Abe to Communist Party general secretary Xi Jinping .
Tensions remained high around the Diaoyus yesterday, with a boat carrying seven Taiwanese activists attempting to place a statue of the Goddess of the Sea on the disputed islands. Their boat was blocked by eight Japanese coastguard vessels when it was within 17 nautical miles of the islands.
Taiwan's coastguard had dispatched four vessels to protect the boat and coastguard vessels from Japan and Taiwan fired water cannon. The boat was badly damaged, with the activists forced to jump into the water.
Three mainland maritime surveillance vessels were also seen in the area at the time.
Yamaguchi will meet a senior leader in Beijing today before returning to Tokyo, but whether Xi will be present is unconfirmed.