• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Naoto Kan said he and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao agreed Monday to improve bilateral ties by holding high-level talks when appropriate.

It was their first meeting since the row broke out last month over an incident near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

Shortly before leaving Brussels for Tokyo, Kan told reporters he talked with Wen for about 25 minutes on the sidelines of the Asia-Europe Meeting in the Belgian capital.

The two leaders met in a corridor outside the conference venue after a working dinner, Kan said.

He said he told Wen that the Senkaku Islands are an integral part of Japanese territory, while the Chinese premier reiterated Beijing’s position that the islets belong to China, where they are known as Diaoyu.

The Japanese-administered Senkakus are also claimed by Taiwan, where they are known as Tiaoyutai.

Kan told reporters that the two leaders agreed it is “not desirable” for bilateral ties to deteriorate and that private and government exchanges should resume.

They also shared the view that the two countries should once again aim at promoting a strategic, mutually beneficial relationship, Kan said.

The meeting could lead to a turnaround in bilateral ties ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in Yokohama on Nov. 13 and 14.

Japan’s ties with China have been strained since a Chinese fishing boat collided with Japan Coast Guard cutters near the disputed islets in early September.

Tokyo arrested the Chinese captain for allegedly intentionally ramming the coast guard ships, prompting China to take a flurry of retaliatory steps, including freezing ministerial-level exchanges and restricting Chinese exports of rare earth elements.

The face-to-face meeting between Kan and Wen came as a surprise, as a senior Japanese government official had denied there was contact between them during the first day of the biennial ASEM summit.

Kan said the encounter took place spontaneously as he and Wen happened to be walking in the same direction in a corridor of the conference venue.

On Monday, Kan separately met the leaders of Australia, France, South Korea and Vietnam to gain their understanding over Tokyo’s handling of the dispute.

Kan told reporters he was able to convey to ASEM leaders that Japan acted properly during the diplomatic conflict.

While no bilateral talks between Kan and Wen were officially set to take place on the sidelines of the ASEM gathering, speculation was rife that the prime minister might try to make contact with Wen to calm the frayed tensions.

Kan was due to skip the whole second-day schedule of the ASEM summit due to a tight Diet schedule.

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