YOKOHAMA — Prime Minister Naoto Kan finally managed to hold bilateral meetings Saturday with his Chinese and Russian counterparts in Yokohama, giving him a chance to sort out diplomatic tensions that have emerged over separate territorial rows.
Meeting on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, Kan generally agreed in separate meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to move forward on improving bilateral ties.
But all three leaders apparently failed to make substantial progress on the territorial issues themselves.
This is the first time Kan has held “official” bilateral meetings with Hu and Medvedev since diplomatic relationships turned sour over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and four Russia-controlled islands off Hokkaido that Japan wants returned.
According to Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama, who participated in the meetings, Kan expressed Japan’s “firm position” over the Senkaku Islands to Hu.
Kan and Hu meanwhile “agreed that the long-term stable development of a strategic, mutually beneficial relationship between Japan and China is not only important for the people of both nations but also for the peace and development of the region and the world,” Fukuyama said.
“It is my understanding that (Japan and China) took a big step forward in improving ties, including the fact that a meeting was held,” Fukuyama told reporters after the meeting.
Meanwhile, Kan lodged a protest with Medvedev over his recent visit to Kunashiri Island, one of the four isles claimed by Japan, Fukuyama said.
Kan told Medvedev that he “cannot accept the president’s visit to Kunashiri Island from the viewpoint of Japan’s position as well as the Japanese people’s sentiment” and expressed his protest, according to Fukuyama.
In response, Medvedev told Kan that the topic was also a sensitive issue for the people of Russia but also expressed his intention to improve ties, Fukuyama said.
Japan-China relations have been highly strained ever since a Chinese trawler and Japan Coast Guard patrol vessels clashed near the Senkaku Islands on Sept. 7, leading Japan to arrest the trawler’s skipper.
Meanwhile, Medvedev made a trip to Kunashiri Island last month, triggering harsh criticism from Japan. It was the first time a Russian leader had visited one of the disputed islands.
“Kan told (Medvedev) that he ultimately wants to resolve the return of the four islands and to conclude a peace treaty,” Fukuyama said.