• Kyodo

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Japan and China are finding it almost impossible to hold a meeting of their finance, foreign and other key ministers by year’s end as they agreed to do last year, diplomats with knowledge of the situation said Friday.

The difficulty mainly stems from China’s reluctance to adjust its ministers’ schedules for the meeting in Japan, which the diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said was further evidence that bilateral ties are stalled.

A year ago, in their first one-on-one talks, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang agreed to resume high-level economic dialogues at an early date in 2016.

The dialogue, which also deals with political issues, has not been held since August 2010, when the key ministers met in Beijing.

Initially, it was put on hold due to a fierce dispute over the sovereignty of the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

Although relations between Asia’s two biggest economies are currently much better than several years ago, the pace of reconciliation has been slow.

In addition to persistent friction over the isles, which are claimed by both China and Taiwan, the two countries have been at odds, particularly this year, over how to ease tensions in the South China Sea.

China has been irked by what it perceives as interference by non-claimants Japan and the United States in its territorial disputes with neighbors in the South China Sea.

In early November, Li told a group of Japanese business executives in Beijing that bilateral ties remain fragile and the situation requires greater efforts to strengthen momentum to improve them.

The economic dialogue, launched in 2007, has been co-hosted by the Japanese foreign minister and a Chinese vice premier in charge of economic issues.

If the dialogue were held this year, the Chinese delegation would be headed by Vice Premier Wang Yang. He is widely seen as one of the strongest candidates to join the Communist Party’s new Politburo Standing Committee, to be formed next year.

Some observers think Wang’s potential promotion at the party’s twice-a-decade congress may be making it difficult for him to attend the meeting, given that strengthening cooperation too much with Japan, especially before a key political event, may incur criticism from other members of the ruling party.

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