'Meeting' may improve Japan ties

08:27, October 29, 2010      

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Premier Wen Jiabao arrives at Noi Bai airport in Hanoi on Thursday to meet regional leaders and attend the East Asia Summit. (Kham / Reuters)

Strained ties between Japan and China are likely to improve at a fence-mending meeting between the premiers on Friday in Hanoi, on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit, Japanese media reported.

China has yet to officially confirm that the meeting will take place.

Japan's Kyodo News Agency on Thursday quoted diplomatic sources from both sides as saying that Premier Wen Jiabao is to meet Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan and issue a joint news communique.

The "rare" move by the two leaders in issuing an official document at a site that is not part of a formal visit will "show improvement of bilateral relations", the Kyodo report said.

Relations have been strained since collisions between two Japan Coast Guard patrol boats and a Chinese trawler on Sept 7 in waters off the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea.

Beijing suspended all high-level contacts with Tokyo after Japan illegally detained the Chinese trawler captain.

The two leaders met in Brussels in a passageway on the sidelines of a summit for Asian and European leaders earlier this month. But Kyodo noted that Beijing only called it a "discussion", not a "meeting".

The report said both governments have basically agreed on the meeting between the two premiers and their foreign ministers in Hanoi.

"The ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit will be a litmus test of how Kan and Maehara (Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara) can patch up soured ties with China," Kyodo said in an analysis.

Maehara further irritated Beijing after the Diaoyu incident by saying China's reaction had been "hysterical".

Prosecutors in Japan submitted video footage of the collisions to parliament this week. Tokyo has been cautious on releasing the footage fearing it could further damage relations.

Qin Yaqing, vice-president of China Foreign Affairs University, said China would be firm on the territorial issue if the two premiers meet.

"China will never give in if Japan is to challenge the bottom line of 'laying aside disputes and together exploring (resources in the East China Sea)' at the meeting," he said.

Wen arrived in Vietnam on Thursday and will stay until Saturday for meetings with ASEAN leaders.

He is also scheduled to attend the 16-member East Asia Summit, which will give official membership to the United States and Russia.

Su Hao, a scholar on Asia-Pacific studies with China Foreign Affairs University, said: "China is positive about the US joining the East Asia Summit and welcomes it to play a role in promoting regional cooperation."

"The summit will be about regional economic cooperation, not regional security," he said.

Qin said the US and Russia joining the summit indicates that East Asia has become "a place for world powers to get together", which will lead to political and economic changes.

"It's impossible to keep East Asia closed and China never seeks a leading role (in the region)."

Territorial disputes in the South China Sea, where Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei all have competing claims over some Chinese islands, are also expected to be touched upon at the summit.

Washington has made the situation more complex, after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in July that sovereignty issues in the South China Sea were a "diplomatic priority" for the US and proposed dealing with them in the international arena.

Qin said the summit will be a good opportunity for China to soothe strained relations with its neighbors.

Wen is also set to meet his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh in Hanoi.

Setting a positive tone ahead of the meeting, Singh said on Wednesday in Malaysia that there is an "enormous" possibility of India and China working together.

Zhang Jing contributed to this story.

By Li Xiaokun, China Daily


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