• Kyodo

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China’s top diplomat said Thursday he wants to “solve various problems” with Japan in a meeting that could set the stage for rare high-level talks between the two countries early next month.

“To improve China-Japan relations, I would like to have heart-to-heart discussions with you,” State Councilor Yang Jiechi told a key foreign-policy adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the outset of a meeting in Beijing.

Yang, who outranks the foreign minister, and the adviser, Shotaro Yachi, the secretariat head of Japan’s National Security Council, played a pivotal role in paving the way for the first meeting between Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping in November 2014.

Yachi, a former career diplomat who serves as the brains behind Abe’s diplomatic and security policies, was scheduled to meet with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang later in the day.

His three-day visit through Friday comes as the two sides try to create an appropriate environment for Abe and Xi to meet bilaterally on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit of leading economies in the Chinese city of Hangzhou early next month.

Yachi’s visit was announced just after the foreign ministers ended talks in Tokyo on Wednesday during which they acknowledged that easing tensions around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea — a constant source of friction for Tokyo and Beijing — is essential for what could be Abe’s third talks with Xi.

They previously met in April 2015. In a reflection of the fragile state of bilateral relations, Abe and Xi have held face-to-face talks only twice since both took power in 2012 — talks that took place on the fringes of regional meetings.

In addition to wartime issues, disagreements over the Senkakus have often strained ties between the second- and third-largest economies.

The islands are administered by Japan but claimed by China, which calls them Diaoyu, and Taiwan, which calls them Tiaoyutai.

In the weeks leading up to the G-20 summit, China has sent a record number of government and fishing vessels near the islands, with some repeatedly entering Japanese waters in defiance of official protests from Tokyo.

For many years, the two countries have engaged in a tense game of cat-and-mouse involving ships and aircraft around the islands, raising regional security worries that accidents or miscalculations could precipitate a wider conflict.

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