• Kyodo

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Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi said Sunday she has agreed with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing to hold regular trilateral dialogue involving China, Japan and South Korea to strengthen cooperation on regional issues.

Kawaguchi also said she had meaningful talks with Chinese leaders on bilateral issues, including the dispute over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, and said the countries’ failure to arrange reciprocal visits by their leaders does not damage the relationship.

Japan and China “basically agreed to hold (trilateral) dialogue other than their talks being held on the sidelines of (meetings of) ASEAN,” Kawaguchi told reporters, referring to her talks on Saturday night over dinner with Li. Japan and China hope to hold the trilateral talks once a year, she said.

The foreign ministers of the three countries currently meet once a year on the sidelines of foreign ministerial meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

On bilateral relations, Kawaguchi said her two-day trip to China through Sunday was “very meaningful” as she was able to meet with such leaders as Premier Wen Jiabao and Li even though her trip fell on a weekend.

That Beijing arranged the meetings on the weekend “shows that China shares a view with Japan that bilateral talks are important,” Kawaguchi said.

State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan told Kawaguchi later Sunday that Wen decided to hold talks with Kawaguchi by canceling his original plans for a domestic trip because “the Chinese government places importance on Kawaguchi’s visit to Beijing,” a Japanese official said.

But Kawaguchi and Tang, who is in charge of foreign affairs, remained apart in their meeting on the Senkaku issue and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine, the official said.

Kawaguchi said she hopes to enhance cooperative relations with China on such issues as the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, and said she hopes Tang will visit Japan in the summer toward that end, the official said.

Tang welcomed the invitation, though he fell short of accepting, the official said.

In her meetings with Wen and Li, Kawaguchi repeated Japan’s regret over the landing March 24 of seven Chinese activists on one of the Senkaku Islands, which are controlled by Japan and claimed by China and Taiwan.

Wen slammed Koizumi’s repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which is dedicated to Japanese war dead, including World War II war criminals.

The reciprocal leaders’ visits have been stalled mainly due to the dispute over the shrine. Kawaguchi again asked Wen to visit Japan, but there was no agreement.

Tang was quoted as telling Kawaguchi that Japan should give full consideration to its past aggression against its Asian neighbors, including China, as they caused “great damage.”

Kawaguchi told reporters Sunday that bilateral ties will be boosted even without the reciprocal visits.

“There were meetings between the leaders of the two countries last year on a variety of occasions, and they will also hold talks this year,” Kawaguchi said, adding the leaders have sent messages to boost bilateral ties through such talks.

Koizumi met with President Hu Jintao last May and October on the sidelines of the summit of Group of Eight major countries and of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

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