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Asia-Pacific

Japan and China look to cool island tensions

Japan sends envoy to Beijing to discuss disputed islands in an effort to improve relations.
Last Modified: 25 Jan 2013 18:27
Natsuo Yamaguchi, left, presented a letter from Japan's prime minister to Xi Jinping in Beijing on Friday [Reuters]

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has appealed to Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping for the two countries to improve relations amid tensions over disputed islands, Beijing said.

Tokyo's new leader said in a letter to Xi that he would like to "push forward Japan-China strategic relationships for mutual benefit", foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters on Friday.

Abe's coalition ally Natsuo Yamaguchi presented the letter to Xi during a meeting in Beijing aimed at smoothing links between the world's second- and third-largest economies, which have been heavily damaged by the dispute.

"In the letter, Abe said that Japan-China relations are one of the most important bilateral relationships [and] the two countries share common responsibilities for peaceful development for Asia-Pacific and the world," the spokesperson added.

Yamaguchi, head of the junior partner in Japan's ruling coalition, is the most senior Japanese parliamentarian to visit China since the long-running row over the islands intensified in September when Tokyo nationalised part of the chain.

The move triggered a diplomatic dispute and huge anti-Japan demonstrations across China.

Beijing has repeatedly sent ships and aircraft near the Tokyo-controlled islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan but claimed by Beijing as the Diaoyus.

The chain could sit atop vast mineral reserves, it is believed.

At the Great Hall of the People in Beijing both sides expressed appreciation for the trip before beginning private talks.

"Mr Yamaguchi visits China at a period in which Sino-Japanese relations face a special situation. We attach great importance to your visit," said Xi.

Yamaguchi, who has no official role in the Tokyo government, said he was "incomparably happy" about the meeting.

But neither side appeared to offer substantive concessions.

According to a statement on China’s foreign ministry website, during the meeting Xi stressed that the two sides had to "properly handle sensitive issues".

But it reiterated China's position that "Japan should face up to history and reality [and] take concrete actions to work with China".

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