TOKYO: Chinese defense officials are meeting a Japanese delegation in Beijing this week for informal talks on preventing simmering territorial disputes from erupting into armed conflict, the talks’ host said on Monday.
The former members of Japan’s Air and Marine Self-Defense Forces will meet with the current Chinese defense officials on Wednesday, as Tokyo calls for a first official meeting between Japanese premier Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Japan’s Sasakawa Peace Foundation, which has been involved in such talks over previous years, is hosting the forum amid fears of an armed conflict near the disputed Tokyo-controlled Senkaku islands, also claimed by China which calls them Diaoyus.
There will be two days of talks in the Chinese capital followed by two more meetings that will be held in Japan or China in the coming months, with a report expected early next year, the Foundation said.
“We’re hosting the meeting ahead of a resumption of official talks between defense authorities, and hope to help deepen communication between the two sides and create a positive atmosphere for bilateral relations,” foundation official Yu Zhan said.
While there are signs of a thawing in relations between Tokyo and Beijing, longstanding territorial conflicts and Chinese anger over Japan’s aggression in the first half of the 20th century have weighed on ties.
In November, Beijing unilaterally declared an air defense identification zone covering the East China Sea, which overlapped a similar Japanese zone and covered the bitterly contested islands.
In the same month, Japan accused China of flying fighter jets “dangerously” close to its military planes near the disputed archipelago—believed to harbor vast natural resources below its seabed —but Beijing laid the blame at Tokyo’s feet.
Last month, senior officials of the two countries agreed to resume stalled talks over setting up a hotline between defense officials to prevent an unintended conflict.
Abe and Xi, both strong nationalists, have not held direct talks, but the Japanese leader made brief contact with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang earlier this month at an international gathering in Italy. That followed other Japan-China meetings between senior officials and business leaders.
Last week, Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso and China’s Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli briefly chatted on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation finance ministers’ gathering in Beijing, ahead of the forum’s annual summit next month.