Maritime talks with China eyed

BEIJING (Kyodo) China and Japan are considering a vice-ministerial meeting in late February in Tokyo to discuss measures to prevent maritime run-ins similar to the one near the Senkaku Islands last September that severely strained bilateral ties, diplomatic sources said Tuesday.

Through the strategic dialogue, the two sides hope to improve relations ahead of a trilateral summit among China, Japan and South Korea set for May in Tokyo and a meeting of the three countries’ foreign ministers set for March in Kyoto, the sources said.

Tokyo and Beijing also hope the dialogue will pave the way for a visit to China by Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, possibly in the spring.

It will be the first time Japan and China have held a strategic dialogue since a June 2009 meeting in Beijing.

Vice Foreign Minister Kenichiro Sasae and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun are expected to attend the talks.

Along with maritime safety measures, especially around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, the two sides are likely to discuss Japan’s new defense policy outline, stalled bilateral talks concerning a treaty on joint gas field drilling in the East China Sea, and tensions on the Korean Peninsula, according to the sources.

The National Defense Program Guidelines adopted in December express increased concerns about China’s military rise and call for a reorganization of the Self-Defense Forces to cut down on personnel in Hokkaido and instead boost security around the Nansei Islands in Okinawa, closer to China and Taiwan.

In the wake of the arrest of the skipper of the Chinese trawler involved in the Sept. 7 clash with two Japan Coast Guard vessels near the Senkaku Islands, which are administered by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan, Beijing unilaterally postponed talks with Tokyo aimed at signing a treaty on gas field development in the East China Sea.

Japan later freed the Chinese skipper.

In late January, State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Yutaka Banno and Shinsuke Sugiyama, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, made separate visits to Beijing and held talks with Zhang and other Chinese officials, and agreed to promote intergovernmental exchange, including a resumption of the strategic dialogue.