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Japan, China eye September summit amid territorial tensions

TOKYO — Japan and China agreed Wednesday to work toward a meeting between their top leaders next month, even as the two sides remain bitterly divided over Chinese incursions near the disputed islands in the East China Sea.


This would mark the first summit between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping since April 2015. Eager to stress progress on dialogue, both countries have sought a meeting on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in China’s Hangzhou. The Japanese and Chinese foreign ministers agreed Wednesday to push for a summit.


But ties have been frayed of late by the situation around the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands, which are claimed by China as the Diaoyu. Chinese government vessels sailed near the islands in what Japan considers its territorial waters on six days this month, and Chinese vessels passed through the contiguous zone extending from these waters for the 22nd day in a row Wednesday.


Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida discussed the topic with visiting Chinese counterpart Wang Yi for an hour in the afternoon. Tokyo hopes to mend ties with Beijing via dialogue, such as top-level talks, “once the East China Sea situation improves,” Kishida said. Though he did not specify what he would consider improvement, Kishida stressed the importance of “completely calming down” the situation first.


Wang argued that the situation has basically been brought under control through discussion, according to Japanese sources. Wang later told reporters that Beijing is considering a bilateral summit at the G-20 meeting and that he hopes for a positive atmosphere and a good environment.


The Japanese government said Wednesday that it will send National Security Council chief Shotaro Yachi to the Chinese capital. Yachi will meet with Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi, a top diplomat, on Thursday morning and with Premier Li Keqiang that afternoon. Yachi will stay until Friday to lay the final groundwork for a summit.


Kishida lodged a fresh complaint about Chinese activities in the East China Sea at Wednesday’s meeting. “It is not acceptable that China has continued unilateral activity in the region despite Japan’s unchanged stance,” he said, urging China to bring the situation under control and avoid a recurrence. He also pushed for improvement of the East China Sea situation as a whole, including actions that could be viewed as militarization, such as the installation of radar equipment at gas development facilities.


Wang called for more communication, including high-level talks on maritime issues, citing the importance of keeping regional conditions from deteriorating as well as avoiding unforeseen situations. Both men agreed to seek speedy implementation of a communication mechanism for avoiding accidental clashes in the East China Sea. The two sides staked out their usual positions on the South China Sea row.


Also on the agenda was the response to North Korea’s firing Wednesday of a submarine-launched ballistic missile. Kishida stressed the need for a “clear message from the United Nations Security Council on Pyongyang’s repeated provocations.” He called on China to act responsibly as a permanent member of the Security Council, referring to the body’s failure to issue a statement rebuking North Korea for a launch earlier this month amid objections from Beijing.


Wang said only that China will remain in close communication, including with the Security Council, on the matter.

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