• Kyodo

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China’s fourth-highest ranking leader, Yu Zhengsheng, said Friday that it is important to have dialogue with Japan but stopped short of signaling whether their leaders will meet on the sidelines of next month’s summit of the Group of 20 major economies.

After speaking with Yu in Beijing, a close confidant of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe quoted him as saying that China and Japan “should not be each other’s threat and should cooperate.”

The confidant, veteran lawmaker Takeo Kawamura, spoke with Yu in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, marking the highest political contact between the countries since tensions suddenly escalated this month over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. The islets are claimed by China and Taiwan.

Kawamura, a former chief Cabinet secretary, told reporters that he also conveyed Abe’s hope of holding one-on-one talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the summit in early September.

Yu, one of the seven members of the Communist Party’s powerful Politburo Standing Committee, repeated China’s long-held position on the islands but did not offer a concrete response to Abe’s willingness to hold talks with Xi, the lawmaker said. Any talks would be their first since April 2015.

China sent a record number of vessels, as many as 15, close to the Senkaku Islands earlier this month that repeatedly entered Japanese waters. They were accompanied by about 300 Chinese fishing boats.

The Japan-administered islets, which are uninhabited, have long been a major source of friction among the countries, especially after the Japanese government effectively nationalized the chain in 2012 by purchasing them from their private Japanese owner, outbidding then-Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara.

But Japanese officials are puzzled by the timing of the swarm, weeks before a summit of the Group of 20 major economies in Hangzhou, China.

Through the discussions with Yu, one of the seven members of the Chinese Communist Party’s powerful Politburo Standing Committee, Kawamura is hoping to create a better environment for Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping to meet during the summit in early September, possibly on the sidelines of the meeting.

Security experts have pointed out that China’s renewed push to assert its sovereignty over the islets, which it calls Diaoyu, is connected to Beijing’s humiliating court loss in a case brought by the Philippines challenging China’s claim to the South China Sea.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled on July 12 that China’s claims to historical and economic rights to nearly the entire expanse of the South China Sea have no legal basis.

Since then, Japan, the United States and some other non-claimant countries have called on China to respect the ruling.

China, meanwhile, has urged those countries not to interfere in territorial disputes in the South China Sea and dismissed the verdict as a “waste of paper.”

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