BEIJING (AFP) – Japan’s deputy prime minister on Wednesday urged China to allow a summit between the Asian rivals as he met a top Beijing official, he said.
Taro Aso and China’s Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli briefly chatted on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) finance ministers’ gathering in Beijing, ahead of the forum’s annual summit next month.
Aso, who is also Tokyo’s finance minister, told Japanese media in Beijing that he called for the first meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
He said he underscored the importance of the countries’ trade and business relationship to Zhang.
“I told him that it would be extremely meaningful if the leaders from the two countries could hold a meeting at APEC,” Aso said.
He did not give details of how Zhang responded.
Abe and Xi have not held direct talks, and their nations remain deeply at odds over a disputed island chain as well as bitter memories of Japan’s aggression in China and elsewhere in Asia up to and during World War II.
But the two sides have made visible steps in recent weeks towards a possible Abe-Xi summit.
Abe made brief contact with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang last week on the sidelines of an international gathering in Italy, followed by other meetings between senior officials and a visit to China by a major Japanese business delegation.
The Japanese business community has been watching with keen interest whether Beijing and Tokyo can use APEC as an opportunity to ease tensions, if not to reset ties.
The two nations have had testy relations for decades, but they nosedived to historic lows after Japan in 2012 nationalised a set of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea – which Tokyo controls as the Senkakus but which Beijing claims as the Diaoyus.
The purchase prompted angry anti-Japan protests in China, where Japan Inc. has faced greater difficulties doing business than before.
Coastguard units from Japan and China now routinely play cat and mouse around the islands as both sides seek to assert sovereignty.
Beijing also sparked regional controversy – as well as condemnation from Washington – late last year with its unilateral declaration of an Air Defence Identification Zone that overlaps the islands.
China has repeatedly voiced its distrust of Abe, portraying him as a historical revisionist whose conservative beliefs are symbolised by his past visits to and continued support for a controversial Tokyo war shrine.
Beijing regularly urges Japan to take concrete measures on such issues.
Abe made an offering to the shrine last week.