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Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Chinese counterpart Wang Yi at odds over East China Sea but aligned on trade: official

Kyodo

Despite a recent improvement in bilateral ties, Foreign Minister Taro Kono and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi remain at odds over issues related to the East and South China seas, a government official said Thursday.

During a half-hour talk with Wang in Singapore, Kono voiced concern about China’s military buildup in the South China Sea, where Beijing and several Southeast Asian countries have overlapping claims, the Japanese official said.

Kono also conveyed Japan’s unease about China’s moves in the East China Sea, where China is sailing naval vessels around the disputed Senkaku Islands and developing energy resources in the contested waters.

“Naturally, China has its own stance” on the matter, Wang responded.

Kono emphasized that concrete progress on maritime issues is needed to put Japan-China relations on a “development track,” the official said.

Japan has repeatedly called on China to stop unilateral resource exploration in the East China Sea, with their negotiations based on a 2008 bilateral accord on joint gas development around the line having been placed on hold.

In June, Tokyo and Beijing launched a defense communications hotline to avert accidental maritime and aviation clashes related to the territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands. The dispute erupted in September 2012 after the Japanese government effectively nationalized the uninhabited islets, which China claims as Diaoyu and Taiwan claims as Tiaoyutai.

Bilateral relations, however, are clearly improving, and this year marks the 40th anniversary of the signing of a friendship treaty between the two countries.

When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Tokyo in May, Abe expressed a desire to visit China by the end of the year. They also pledged to make efforts to resume reciprocal visits.

On Thursday, Kono and Wang, who are visiting Singapore to attend gatherings related to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations forum, agreed to work on arranging Abe’s visit.

Sharing the view that stronger cooperation will contribute to stability in the international community, Kono and Wang have confirmed that there is a need for high-level exchanges, the official said.

But they also agreed it is important to maintain the free trade system, as some countries — particularly the United States — have shifted toward unilateralism and protectionism, the official said.

China is engaged in a full-fledged trade war with the U.S. that has the world’s two largest economies hiking tariffs on each other’s imports.

Kono and Wang did not deepen discussions on North Korea issues due to a lack of time, the official added.