Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seeking a chance to make informal contact with Chinese President Xi Jinping next month, when they are expected to join the Group of 20 summit in Russia, government sources said.
With Japan and China stuck in their territorial row in the East China Sea, Beijing is reluctant to hold formal talks with Tokyo on the G-20 sidelines in St. Petersburg from Sept. 5 to 6.
Tokyo is thus aiming for a possible chat right before or after the group’s sessions, the sources said. The meeting would be the leaders’ first on the matter.
China has been escalating the issue since September, when Tokyo effectively nationalized the Senkakus Islands, claimed by Beijing as Diaoyu.
The potential conversation between Abe and Xi could pave the way for a formal bilateral summit in early October, when they are likely to join a leaders’ meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, the sources said.
Abe has stated that Japan is always open to dialogue, but he also urged Beijing not to set any preconditions for talks. Japan’s position is that the Senkakus are an inherent part of its territory and that there is no territorial dispute between the two countries.
The Japanese side is unsure whether Xi would accept even a chat. The sources also said they may not even try to arrange anything in advance and that Abe could suddenly just start talking to Xi at the G-20 venue.
“If (Xi) refuses even a short contact, that would only reinforce the hard-line image of China,” one of the sources said, adding Japan could benefit from showing the world that it’s attempting to improve China ties.