Senior diplomats from Japan and China pledged on Friday to try to bolster mutual trust in security affairs, as the two countries remain at odds over islands both claim in the East China Sea despite the improvement in political relations. At the outset of their “security dialogue” in Beijing, Japanese senior deputy foreign minister Takeo Mori said: “It is true that there are concerns over security policy between Japan and China, but it is important to deepen mutual trust and concretely promote exchanges.” Chinese foreign vice-minister Kong Xuanyou told Mori that China “will make efforts to strengthen our relations of trust while interacting without reserve”. The bilateral security dialogue was held for the first time since Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, at a summit meeting in Beijing in October last year, asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to improve the situation surrounding the disputed islands. Japan protests Chinese survey ship operating near Okinotorishima atoll, a small but vital piece in Tokyo’s maritime territory claims Political ties between the two countries have been improving recently, with 2018 – the 40th anniversary of the signing and entering into force of the bilateral Treaty of Peace and Friendship – serving as an incentive to forge better ties. But the two neighbours are still mired in a territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands, called Diaoyu in China – a group of uninhabited islets controlled by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing. Strains particularly intensified after the Japanese government, then led by Yoshihiko Noda, Abe’s immediate predecessor, brought the islands under state control in September 2012. Since the Japanese move, Chinese coastguard vessels have repeatedly sailed into the waters around the islands, sparking concern of an unintended clash between Japanese and Chinese vessels. Along with Mori and Kong, senior defence officials of the two countries attended Friday’s meeting. A similar security dialogue was last held in Tokyo in October 2017.