Japan, China Envoys Met Last Week for Talks on Island Feud

Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs
Zhang Zhijun, vice minister of foreign affairs of the People's Republic of China. Photographer: Johannes Simon/Getty Images

Senior Japanese and Chinese diplomats met last week in an attempt to improve ties damaged by rival claims to uninhabited East China Sea islands that have hurt Asia’s two biggest economies.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura today confirmed reports that Vice Foreign Minister Chikao Kawai met with Chinese officials in Shanghai, declining to give details on the talks. Kawai met Chinese counterpart Zhang Zhijun, the Nikkei newspaper said, citing unidentified diplomatic sources.

The two sides agreed this month to hold vice-ministerial discussions at a unspecified date after Japan’s purchase of the islands, called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese, sparked violent protests in China and hurt Japanese companies doing business there. At stake is sovereignty over an area rich in fish, oil and natural gas.

“This was part of our effort to continue to communicate with China at various levels about the current situation surrounding the Senkaku islands,” Fujimura told reporters at a regular press conference in Tokyo.

In an Oct. 10 interview, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda called for talks, saying “both countries lose out” if relations deteriorate. China is Japan’s biggest trading partner and bilateral trade has tripled to more than $340 billion in the last decade.

Noda’s government agreed in September to purchase the islands for 2.05 billion yen ($25.7 million) from their private Japanese owner, heading off a plan by Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara to buy and develop them. China denounced the move and Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. suffered their biggest one-month drop in Chinese sales since at least 2008.

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