The Japanese government has suggested to China that the countries should begin holding meetings between their foreign and defense ministers in order to deepen mutual understanding on security issues, diplomatic sources said Tuesday.
Beijing has yet to accept or decline the suggestion, the sources said, indicating the issue may be on the agenda when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping next month on the sidelines of a Group of 20 summit in Osaka.
By offering to hold the "two-plus-two" talks, Japan is hoping to de-escalate the situation in the East China Sea, where the countries are in a dispute over the sovereignty of the uninhabited Senkaku Islands, the sources said.
China lays claim to the Japanese-controlled islands, which lie in waters rich with fish and potentially oil and gas deposits, and has continued to send government ships to the area. The islands, called Diaoyu by China, are also claimed by Taiwan, which calls them Tiaoyutai.
China has also been increasing its presence in the South China Sea, creating man-made islands with military installations.
According to the sources, Foreign Minister Taro Kono floated the idea of two-plus-two talks in meetings over the past several months with Yang Jiechi, China's top diplomat, and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
It is expected Tokyo will agree to set up the talks when Abe potentially goes to China later this year, or during another possible visit to Japan by Xi next year.
If realized, the talks are expected to include Kono and Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya on the Japanese side. Candidates to participate on the Chinese side include Yang and Wang, as well as Li Zuocheng, chief of the Joint Staff Department of the People's Liberation Army, and National Defense Minister Wei Fenghe.