BEIJING – A key adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed Friday with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on the need for the two nations’ top leaders to hold talks as both nations seek improved bilateral relations despite persistent differences over wartime, territorial and security issues.
“Currently, China-Japan relations have opportunities and also face challenges,” Li told Shotaro Yachi shortly after they met in Beijing.
“I believe this visit has positive significance in bringing bilateral relations back to a normal track,” Li said at the Zhongnanhai leadership compound.
After the meeting, which lasted a little over 30 minutes, a Japanese official accompanying Yachi told reporters that both sides agreed on the importance of having “top-level dialogue” while also promoting exchanges in nonpolitical fields.
They also agreed on the need to “control differences” for the development of the two countries, according to the official and the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
Li was quoted by the ministry as saying that Sino-Japanese relations’ “sensitivity and complexity still stand out.”
Among other matters, Yachi — a major architect of Abe’s foreign and security policies — called for China’s cooperation in realizing a trilateral summit among the two countries and South Korea in the not-too-distant future, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The annual trilateral summit, in which Li would represent China if, has been suspended since May 2012 after Japan’s ties with the two neighbors fell to their lowest levels in decades. Recently, however, relations have begun to thaw.
Yachi and Li did not discuss specific issues, including a statement Abe is due to issue in August to commemorate the 70th anniversary of World War II’s end. This has been a major concern for Beijing, which it says could strengthen or stall the momentum of improving bilateral ties, the official said.
China, as well as South Korea, say Japan has not done enough to atone for its atrocities before and during World War II.
China will hold a major ceremony on Sept. 3 to mark the anniversary, which it calls its day of victory in an eight-year war of resistance against Japanese aggression.
Along with other world leaders, China has invited Abe to take part in the commemoration.
Yachi’s visit comes as Abe weighs a trip to Beijing. Abe is not planning to attend the Sept. 3 event, partly because it includes a major military parade in Tiananmen Square, but is instead considering visiting either before or after that date for what would be his third meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
On Friday, Yachi, the secretariat head of the National Security Council, also held talks with Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan.
That meeting took place a day after the Lower House approved a set of controversial security bills that will allow the Self-Defense Forces to fight overseas, under certain circumstances, for the first time since World War II.
Yachi explained the bills to Chang as he did during a meeting with State Councilor Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat, on Thursday, according to Japanese officials.
While Beijing has voiced strong concerns over the potential for the SDF to play a greater role overseas, Yachi told Yang that the bills are “not targeting a specific country,” despite the widespread view that the move would allow Tokyo to act as a something of a counterweight to a rising China.
Should the bills later become law, the SDF will be able to defend the United States and other allies that come under attack, which previous governments have regarded as banned under its pacifist Constitution.
Yachi raised the issue of China’s continued military build-up and said Japan is concerned about its growing assertiveness in the East and South China Seas, according to the officials.
The two, nevertheless, welcomed increased contacts between defense officials following Abe’s two meetings with Xi.
They also agreed on the importance of setting up a new military-to-military communication system aimed at averting accidental clashes in disputed and nearby waters and airspace at an early date, the officials said.
The mechanism now under consideration includes measures such as creating hotlines between the chiefs of their naval and air forces.
China routinely sends ships to waters around the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, which it calls Diaoyu and claims as its own territory.
It is very rare for a Chinese defense minister to hold talks with senior Japanese officials. Since Abe took office in late 2012, there have been no official talks between the two countries’ defense ministers. However, in August 2013, then-Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera had a brief chat with Chang on the sidelines of a regional security meeting in Brunei.
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