, BRUSSELS, Oct 5 – Chinese and Japanese leaders have held brief fence-mending talks in Brussels, vowing to rebuild ties after the worst diplomatic crisis in years between Asia\’s biggest economies.
The meeting between Japan\’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of an Asia-Europe summit broke the ice after nearly a month of sparring that began with a maritime incident in contested waters.
Tokyo\’s arrest on September 8 of a Chinese trawler captain whose ship collided with two Japanese patrol vessels near a disputed island chain in the East China Sea had led Beijing to cut off all high-level contacts until Monday.
"There was an encounter after dinner" in Brussels, Noriyuki Shikata, Japanese deputy cabinet secretary for public relations, told AFP.
"They agreed to improve relations, to resume exploring ties."
China\’s foreign ministry confirmed the meeting, on the sidelines of the ASEM meeting of leaders from 46 nations, and said the two sides had agreed to "hold a high-level China-Japan meeting at a suitable time".
"Wen pointed out that it serves the fundamental interests of both countries and peoples to protect and advance the China-Japan strategic relationship, which is of mutual benefit," the ministry said in a statement.
According to Japan\’s Kyodo news agency, Kan and Wen agreed that "deterioration in bilateral ties over maritime collisions is not desirable" and decided to "hold high-level bilateral talks on a regular basis."
But both men reiterated their countries\’ claims to the islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. Taiwan also claims the islets, which lie in rich fishing grounds and are believed to contain oil and gas deposits. Related article: Japan to demand China resume rare earth shipments
Japan says their sovereignty dates back to the late 19th century and that Chinese interest in the isles dates to the development of petroleum resources on the East China Sea continental shelf in the late 1970s.
Wen expressed Beijing\’s opinion that the islands "have been Chinese territory since ancient times", according to China\’s official Xinhua news agency.
The dispute is the worst between the neighbours in years, and has undermined recent efforts to improve ties marked by decades of mistrust stemming from Japan\’s brutal invasion and occupation of China in the 1930s and 40s.
Kan has come under attack from political conservatives who claim he caved in to Chinese bullying by releasing the trawler captain last month.
China\’s arrest of four Japanese for allegedly illegally filming military installations kept tensions high, although both sides insisted the move was unrelated to the maritime spat.
Three of the four were freed and arrived back in Japan on Friday, although a fourth remains in detention.
In an apparent conciliatory move by Japan, Tokyo had signalled Kan\’s intention to go to Brussels for the EU-Asia summit in a bid to engineer a meeting with Wen.
And then just ahead of the meeting, Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara — seen as a China hawk — tried to tamp down anti-Beijing sentiment, insisting the two countries should "seek a path for co-existence and co-prosperity".
Nationalist groups had rallied in Tokyo against China the day before, accusing Kan\’s government of suffering a "diplomatic defeat" to the fast-growing neighbour.