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China: Xi chat with Abe on fringe of G-20 talks ‘difficult’

Kyodo

A senior Chinese diplomat expressed “difficulty” Tuesday over the possibility of arranging bilateral talks between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of next week’s Group of 20 summit in Russia.

“I wonder how we can set them, given that there is no foundation for dialogue,” Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Li Baodong told a press conference organized ahead of the two-day summit of major economies starting from Sept. 5 in St. Petersburg.

Li blamed Japan for the difficulty, saying Tokyo has not made enough effort to narrow differences with Beijing over the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

The Tokyo-administered islets are claimed by China, which calls them the Diaoyu.

His remarks came a day after Abe said he hopes to hold talks with Xi even as Asia’s two biggest economies are still finding it difficult to repair frayed relations.

There have been no official talks between the leaders of the two nations since May 2012 in Beijing, and bilateral relations have sunk to their lowest point in years since Japan effectively nationalized the islets last September. Japan took initial control of them in 1895, and China has been claiming them since the 1970s.

Abe, who formed his government following last December’s election, is seeking an informal meeting with Xi before or after the G-20 summit, Japanese sources said last week.

However, China’s position is that there will be no talks between the two leaders as long as Japan refuses to admit the existence of a territorial dispute over the Senkakus.

Abe has repeatedly called for the restart of high-level political dialogue, without preconditions.

Japan’s position remains unchanged — that the Senkakus are an inherent part of its territory in terms of history and international law — denying the existence of any territorial dispute between the two countries.

Chinese officials and experts have been criticizing the Abe government for carrying out an “insincere, two-faced approach” in that it is calling for dialogue without making any real efforts to mend bilateral ties.

They have also been irked by Japan’s attempts to give the impression to the rest of the world that Beijing is responsible for rejecting high-level political contacts.

Li, who was formerly Beijing’s ambassador to the United Nations, also urged Japan to face up to its wartime history, saying some politicians in Tokyo are again “challenging the common sense of humankind.”