Reversing a decision to skip next week’s Asia-Europe Meeting, Prime Minister Naoto Kan will make a three-day trip to Brussels starting Sunday, where Tokyo is exploring the possibility of organizing talks with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku said Tuesday.

Kan did not initially plan on attending the international meeting because of a scheduling conflict with the upcoming extraordinary Diet session.

But due to the heightening tension between Tokyo and Beijing over the incident earlier this month between a Chinese fishing boat and Japan Coast Guard patrol vessels off the disputed Senkaku Islands, the government apparently decided it was necessary to push its case at the international level.

“It’s important that the top (leader) makes the trip,” instead of someone on his behalf, Sengoku said.

While Japan hopes a meeting can be arranged between Kan and Wen, who will also be attending the summit, Sengoku said the prospects of such talks are uncertain at present.

“The Foreign Ministry will do its best (to coordinate a bilateral meeting) if circumstances allow, but I am not sure if that will be the case in a week,” Sengoku said. “The ball is in the Chinese court.”

Later in the day in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said she “hasn’t heard” of information on talks between Wen and Kan, indicating no prospects of a meeting taking place on the sidelines of the ASEM sessions.

Yu also told a regular news conference that both Japan and China need to meet each other halfway over the dispute.

She added that Japan should take “candid and practical actions” to mend the bilateral relationship.

The release of the fishing boat skipper last week failed to defuse the situation. After he was freed, China demanded an apology and compensation, while Japan shot back by demanding that Beijing pay for damage to its coast guard vessels.

Information from Kyodo added

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.