Senior Japan, China envoys meet in Tokyo, eye Shinzo Abe-Xi Jinping summit in July

Chinese assistant foreign minister Kong Xuanyou (left)  with Japanese deputy foreign minister for political affairs Takeo Akiba (right) before their meeting at the Iikura Guest House in Tokyo on April 4, 2017.
Chinese assistant foreign minister Kong Xuanyou (left) with Japanese deputy foreign minister for political affairs Takeo Akiba (right) before their meeting at the Iikura Guest House in Tokyo on April 4, 2017. ST PHOTO: WALTER SIM

TOKYO - Senior diplomats from Japan and China met on Tuesday (April 4) with an eye towards arranging a summit between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Xi Jinping in July.

Also at the top of their agenda was how the two neighbours can work together to curb North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile threat.

The delegations, led by Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Takeo Akiba and Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou, agreed that close communication between the two sides is crucial to fostering more stable Sino-Japanese ties.

This is especially timely as the two countries mark 45 years of the normalisation of diplomatic relations this year, and 40 years of the Japan-China peace and friendship treaty next year, Mr Akiba and Mr Kong said.

Mr Akiba said in his brief opening remarks: "To improve ties and appropriately deal with problems, we have to expand our cooperation and try to build consensus on different issues."

Their meeting comes as relations are fraught over a territorial dispute involving the Senkaku/Diaoyu islets in the East China Sea. Chinese warships and fighter jets have had repeated infractions into Japanese waters and airspace.

And China, where the wartime wounds inflicted by Japan still run deep, eyes with suspicion Japan's expanding military budget and role of its Self-Defence Forces.

Mr Akiba's meeting with Mr Kong - an old Japan hand who is widely tipped as a strong candidate to be the next Chinese Ambassador to Japan - is expected to pave the way towards a summit meeting between Mr Abe and Mr Xi on the sidelines of the Group of 20 nations (G-20) summit in Hamburg, Germany in July.

If the meeting takes place, it will be their first bilateral meeting since last November, when the two leaders met for 10 minutes on the sidelines of the Apec summit in Lima, Peru.

Mr Akiba and Mr Kong were also expected to exchange views on how to deal with the increasing threat of North Korea's nuclear and missile development programmes.

Intelligence sources from Seoul and Tokyo have said that North Korea could hold its sixth nuclear test this week to coincide with a summit meeting between Mr Xi and his US counterpart Donald Trump. Pyongyang also successfully lobbed four missiles into the Sea of Japan or East Sea last month in what it claims to be a dry run for a strike against US bases in Japan.

China, which is Pyongyang's major economic benefactor and political ally, has often been accused of not doing enough to rein in the North. Mr Trump said on Sunday that the US will address the nuclear threat unilaterally if China does not do more.

The two envoys on Tuesday also discussed political uncertainties in South Korea, which led to the postponement of an annual trilateral summit among Japan, China and South Korea that was slated to be held at the end of last year.

South Korea will elect their new president on May 9, after Park Geun Hye was ousted over an influence-peddling scandal. She is now in jail and facing interrogation.