• Kyodo

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Japan and China are set to hold a security dialogue on Feb. 1 in Beijing in a bid to narrow differences over defense issues, as their relations have been improving, according to bilateral sources close to the matter.

The security dialogue between senior foreign affairs and defense officials of the two countries would be the first since October 2017, when a dialogue was held in Tokyo.

Senior Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Takeo Mori, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou and defense officials are slated to attend the dialogue, the sources said Wednesday.

The planned discussion, aimed at deepening mutual trust between the two sides, comes as Chinese coast guard vessels continue to occasionally sail into waters around the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

Discord over the uninhabited islands, which China calls the Diaoyu, has become more tense since 2012, when the Japanese government brought them under state control.

Topics on which the officials may exchange views also include Japan’s latest national defense guidelines, approved last month, which document its decision to pursue the deployment of aircraft carriers for the first time since the end of World War II.

Beijing has strongly objected to the guidelines, which also point out that China’s military activities in the East China Sea and other waters are a source of “strong concern” in the region.

China has criticized Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government for fanning the “threat of China.”

Mori and Kong, meanwhile, are likely to step up preparations to hold a strategic dialogue between Japanese and Chinese vice foreign ministers, as well as a ministerial-level economic dialogue to lay the groundwork for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Japan for the Group of 20 summit, set to be held in Osaka in June.

If Xi attends as planned, he would become the first Chinese president to make an official trip to Japan since May 2008, when Hu Jintao — Xi’s immediate predecessor — visited the nation as a state guest.

At a summit with Abe in Beijing last October, Xi said he will “seriously” consider visiting Japan, with both expressing willingness to promote high-level reciprocal visits.

Bilateral ties have been improving recently, with 2018 having marked the 40th anniversary of the signing and entering into force of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and China.

The two countries have agreed to bolster economic cooperation, while China remains engaged in a tit-for-tat tariff trade dispute with the United States.

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