TOKYO: Japan and China held security talks on Thursday after a four-year hiatus because of simmering territorial tensions, in a meeting expected to touch on the flashpoint issue of maritime crisis management, officials and reports said.
The first such dialogue between the two Asian rivals since January 2011 was held at Japan’s foreign ministry in Tokyo, a government official said, in the latest sign of a hastening thaw in once-frozen relations.
The talks involved top officials from each country’s foreign and defense ministries, including Japan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama and Liu Jianchao, China’s assistant foreign minister.
Tokyo and Beijing are at loggerheads over the sovereignty of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, which Japan administers as the Senkakus, but which China claims as the Diaoyus.
Relations soured in 2012 when the Japanese government angered China by nationalizing some of the islands, and Beijing had since refused most high-level talks with Tokyo, as ships and planes from both sides regularly sparred in the East China Sea.
Some observers had warned that the regular presence of military or paramilitary vessels from two of the region’s biggest powers risked sliding into conflict through error or a wayward local commander.
But the two sides broke the ice in November when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping had a frosty handshake on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.
“Our country sees [the dialogue]as important as it is expected to improve mutual trust between Japan and China in the field of security,” Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters.
“Through this dialogue, we want to foster a sense of trust between the two countries by exchanging views frankly and honestly on security policies, defense policies and the regional situation,” Suga added.
Liu told the meeting that Beijing hoped to develop ties with Tokyo in the spirit of “taking history as a mirror and looking forward to the future,” according to China’s official Xinhua news agency.
The comment reflects Beijing’s persistent theme of Japan’s need to face up to its actions in World War II.
Japan is expected to ask China to go ahead with stalled plans to launch a maritime crisis-management mechanism as soon as possible, Jiji Press and other news reports said.
Tokyo is also expected to ask Beijing to make its growing defense spending more transparent and explain the reasons behind its military expansion, they said.
Beijing will likely want to talk about moves by Abe to relax the restrictions on Japan’s military to allow it to come to the aid of allies under attack, they added.