Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Monday managed to hold informal talks with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of the Asia-Europe Meeting in Brussels — their first meeting since the row last month over the arrest of the captain of a Chinese fishing boat that allegedly rammed two Japanese Coast Guard patrol boats in Japanese territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands of Okinawa Prefecture.

In a welcome move, they agreed that it is “not desirable” for the bilateral ties to deteriorate and that Tokyo and Beijing should “go back to the starting point” of promoting “mutually beneficial, strategic relationship.” They also agreed to restore ministerial-level exchanges, other high-level talks and private sector exchanges. It is hoped that their talks will lead to overall improvement in ties. As concrete steps to help ease the strains, China should release a Japanese Fujita Corp. employee held in Hebei Province and lift restrictions on China’s exports of rare earth metals to Japan.

In Brussels, Mr. Kan, in a frank but unusual move by a Japanese leader in a meeting with a Chinese leader, said that the Senkaku Islands are an integral part of Japanese territory. Mr. Wen expressed China’s position that the islands belong to China. Historically and in terms of international law, it is clear that the islands are part of Japan. To help stabilize ties and the overall situation in the East Asia, China should restrain itself over the Senkaku Islands issue.

Although the release of the captain left the impression that Japan is weak-kneed toward China, the latter has also suffered. Its attitude on the row over the Senkaku incident has caused many countries, especially Asian nations, to take a cautious view of China.

As one of the lessons from the row, Japan should make serious efforts to diversify the sources of imports of vital resources such as rare earth metals. It also should be well-prepared for similar incidents in the future. More importantly, it should make continuous efforts to have close communication with both the United States and China.

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