Chinese PM threatens action against Tokyo unless it frees trawler captain seized near disputed islands.
Released Chinese boat captain Zhan Qixiong, right, walks with his family after arriving back in China [AFP]
The prime ministers of Japan and China have held their first face-to-face meeting since a collision involving a Chinese boat and Japanese patrol vessels last month near a disputed island sparked a diplomatic feud.
Naoto Kan and Wen Jiabao met on Monday for 25 minutes after the working dinner of an Asia-Europe summit in Brussels and agreed to start high level talks to repair the strained ties.
“We both said the current situation is not desirable, and we confirmed a return to the starting point of improving our strategic mutually beneficial relations,” Kan told reporters after the meeting.
“We agreed to hold individual high level talks on a suitable basis,” he said, adding that he saw the disputed islands as Japanese territory.
The feud began when a Chinese fishing boat in the East China Sea collided with Japanese patrol vessels on the disputed islands – called Diaoyu by the Chinese and Senkaku by Japan.
Chinese state media quoted Wen as telling his Japanese counterpart that the islands, near potentially huge oil and gas reserves, belonged to China.
“The Diaoyu Islands have been Chinese territory since ancient times,” Wen stressed during the conversation, the Xinhua news agency said in an English language report.
Relations between Asia’s two biggest economies deteriorated after Japan’s Coast Guard detained the captain of the Chinese trawler.
Japan later freed the the captain after China said it had severed contacts at ministerial level. China has since demanded an apology from Japan while Japan has asked to be compensated for alleged damage on its vessels.
Monday’s meeting was not announced in advance and the leaders had earlier seemed to avoid each other, staying apart during a photo opportunity at the start of the meeting. The Chinese leader pointedly avoided eye contact with Kan.
Kan, criticised at home for appearing to cave in to China’s demands to free the captain, gave a veiled criticism of China.
“It is important to mutually respect shared rules of the international community, including those of transactions of raw materials and trade in order to deepen the mutually interdependent relations between Asia and Europe and to achieve mutual growth,” he said.
“It is imperative for related countries and regions to take responsible actions to strengthen trust and to establish a foundation for peace and stability.”
He did not mention China by name in the speech, toning down previous comments.