China’s Xi Agrees to Consider Summit, Japan Envoy Says

Abe’s Envoy Gives Letter to Xi in Bid to Ease Japan-China Spat
Shinzo Abe, Japan's prime minister, pauses during a news conference in Bangkok, Thailand. Photographer: Dario Pignatelli/Bloomberg

China’s Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping has agreed to consider holding a summit with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe aimed at easing tensions over a territorial dispute, a Japanese government envoy said.

Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of Abe’s junior coalition partner, told reporters after meeting Xi in Beijing yesterday he suggested both sides make efforts to hold a summit and Xi told him that “high-level talks were important and he would seriously consider this.”

The comments signal both sides may be seeking to reduce a conflict that has intensified in the past month, with each country dispatching fighter jets and patrol boats near islands at the heart of the territorial claims. The dispute has damaged the two countries’ trade relationship and drawn in the U.S., which warned last week against any disruption to Japan’s administration of the area.

“Dialogue is very welcome but they’re doing one thing with one hand and another thing with the other hand,” Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, the Beijing-based North East Asia project director for the International Crisis Group, said of China’s actions. “If we start to see a change in the deployment of Chinese law enforcement vessels then we’ll see that there really has been a change in the Chinese position.”

Yesterday’s meeting was the highest-level bilateral encounter since Abe took office last month pledging to boost defense spending in response to China’s claims to the islands, called Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese.

Overcome Difficulties

Xi told Yamaguchi that China and Japan’s leaders must “overcome the difficulties in bilateral relations,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a briefing yesterday. “Xi stressed that in order to maintain the long-term steady and healthy development of bilateral relations we must look at the larger picture.”

Japanese military planes were dispatched to head off approaching Chinese aircraft 91 times in the last three months of 2012, compared with 15 times in the April-June period, according to figures released by Japan’s Defense Ministry on Jan. 24.

The last summit was held between Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Beijing last May. Noda in September authorized the purchase of three of the islands, sparking violent protests in China that damaged Japanese businesses.

“About the Senkaku isles, he said there are differences and that it is important to resolve them through talks and discussion,” Yamaguchi, head of the New Komeito party, told reporters about his conversation with Xi. “He said he wanted to move ahead with a strategic, mutually beneficial relationship, taking a broad view.”

‘Secret Whispers’

In a Jan. 24 editorial, the Chinese state-run Global Times newspaper said it was doubtful that “the secret whispers brought by Yamaguchi are valuable.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week reiterated that while the U.S. takes no position on the sovereignty issue, the islands “are under the administration of Japan and we oppose any unilateral actions that would seek to undermine” that. Chinese officials denounced the comments, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang calling them “ignorant of facts.”

— With assistance by Baizhen Chua, and Isabel Reynolds

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