Japan diplomat visits China amid strained ties

Published July 29, 2013

| AFP

Japan's vice foreign minister on Monday set off for a two-day visit to China, Tokyo said, the latest chapter in a bid by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to hold high-level talks with Beijing.

The trip comes as territorial tensions and maritime skirmishes have all but frozen relations between the Asian giants.

Akitaka Saiki, the top bureaucrat in Japan's foreign ministry, was expected to meet with his Chinese counterpart Zhang Yesui and other senior Chinese officials, Jiji Press news agency and other Japanese media reported Monday.

"We coordinated the trip as Mr Saiki has hoped to visit China as soon as possible since he assumed his post" last month, a foreign ministry official told AFP.

On Saturday, Abe told reporters in Manila that he hoped to hold top-level talks with China.

One of his closest advisers also said at the weekend that the testy neighbours could soon hold a meeting.

"I think a summit will be held in the not-so-distant future," Isao Iijima was quoted by Japan's Kyodo news agency as saying.

The diplomatic overtures come on the back of a long-running dispute between Tokyo and Beijing over ownership of an East China Sea island chain.

Since the row flare anew last year, China has become increasingly active in the seas around the disputed archipelago, while it has cancelled diplomatic and cultural events involving Japan.

On Friday, the Chinese coastguard entered disputed waters surrounding the islets for the first time, straining an already tense situation as Tokyo mulled plans to establish a US Marines-style force to protect its claim on the islands.

Although Chinese government ships have been in and out of the waters for many months, this was the first time they have ventured there since Beijing combined several agencies under the coastguard flag last week.

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