'Secret' Japan-China talks held over island row: reports

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Oct 16 2013 09:01 AM | Updated as of Oct 16 2013 05:01 PM

TOKYO - A senior Chinese government official has secretly visited Japan for talks with Japanese officials aimed at improving bilateral relations damaged by an ongoing territorial row, reports said Tuesday.

The talks involving a high-ranking official from the Chinese foreign ministry's Asian division were thought to have been held in early October, Japanese news agency Jiji Press reported from Beijing quoting Chinese government sources.

A high-ranking official from the Japanese foreign ministry attended the meeting, the report said.

A Japanese foreign ministry official declined comment on the content of the report, saying: "Japan and China have been making various exchanges at various levels."

During the trip, the Chinese official attempted to make progress towards summit talks between the two sides, Japan's Kyodo news agency said, quoting sources close to Japan-China relations.

But the talks failed to make any headway, the sources added, saying it was uncertain whether the officials would meet again.

"At this moment, circumstances don't allow Japan and China room to approach one another for a summit. The two countries have a major gap in perception," Kyodo said, quoting an unnamed source.

Tokyo-Beijing ties took a nosedive in September last year over the ownership of the Japan-controlled Senkaku islands, which China also claims and calls the Diaoyus.

The row over the islands in the East China Sea has led to warnings of a possible armed confrontation.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe managed a brief encounter and shook the hand of Chinese President Xi Jinping last week on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific summit in Indonesia. But China rejected a formal sit-down meeting between them due to the island dispute.

Abe has not held formal talks with Chinese and South Korean leaders since taking office last December. Tokyo also has a dispute with Seoul over a group of South Korea-controlled isles.

The legacy of Japan's 20th century wartime aggression has also been souring Tokyo's ties with the neighbours.

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