BEIJING – Beijing said Friday its diplomatic position toward Tokyo has not been eased just because the top leaders of the two countries exchanged words for the first time.
“China’s position remains unchanged,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a news conference, noting that President Xi Jinping, during a Thursday chat with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, “emphasized that Japan should face history squarely” and deal “correctly” with a group of islets at the center of frayed bilateral ties.
According to a Japanese official, Abe and Xi “shook hands unprompted” and chatted for about five minutes in historic Russian city.
Because of feuding over rival claims to the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and wartime history, there has been no formal summit between Asia’s two biggest economies since May 2012.
Before restarting high-level dialogue, China has insisted that Japan first needs to be more sincere and admit a territorial dispute exists over the uninhabited islets.
Prior to the G-20 summit, Vice Foreign Minister Li Baodong told reporters, “A leaders’ meeting is not just about shaking hands or taking pictures, but solving problems,” ruling out the possibility of Xi and Abe holding talks until Japan takes concrete steps on issues related to the islets.
Japan took control of the islets in 1895. Since the early 1970s, China has also claimed them, calling them the Diaoyu. Taiwan also claims the territory, which it calls Tiaoyutai.
China’s official Xinhua News Agency said in a commentary after the face-to-face contact, “A polite encounter may be a good start, and it shows Beijing’s willingness to bring its relations with Japan back on the right track, but whether that can happen still rests with Tokyo.”