independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

China and Japan meet over islands

Japanese envoy Natsuo Yamaguchi, left, shakes hands with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing, China (AP)

A senior envoy has handed China's leader a cordial letter from Japan's prime minister in the highest-level contact between the sides since tensions spiked in September over an island dispute, though the meeting yielded little beyond commitments to hold further contact.

The letter from Shinzo Abe to Xi Jinping, as viewed by an Associated Press photographer, did not contain any substantial overtures, but it sent wishes of good health, spoke of the two countries' "shared responsibility for peace and prosperity" in the region. It added today's meeting was a "valuable opportunity to share views".

The meeting between Mr Xi and the envoy, senior lawmaker Natsuo Yamaguchi, appeared to dial back some of the intensity of the dispute, which has raised concerns over a possible armed conflict.

Mr Xi told Mr Yamaguchi that China attached "great importance" to his visit, held in Beijing's Great Hall of the People following four months of rising friction that have included violent protests in China and the scrambling of fighter jets by both countries.

"Mr Yamaguchi visits China at a period in which China-Japan relations face a special situation," Mr Xi said.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, Mr Yamaguchi said both men emphasised the need for discussion and calm. He said they also discussed a future high-level meeting in preparation for a possible summit between Mr Xi and Mr Abe, but gave no indication of when that might happen.

Mr Yamaguchi is the leader of New Komeito, the junior party in Mr Abe's ruling coalition, but not a member of the government. He arrived on Tuesday and met earlier with lower-ranking officials including China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and the head of the ruling Communist Party's international department.

Tensions soared after Japan's government bought the uninhabited islands, known in Chinese as Diaoyu and Japanese as Senkaku, from their private Japanese owners in September.

Both sides have since called for dialogue to avoid an armed confrontation, although Japan has rejected China's demand that it acknowledge a sovereignty dispute. Tokyo says it is clear the islands belong to Japan.

Press Association

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