'Secret' Japan-China talks held on island row: Report

TOKYO (AFP) - A senior Chinese government official has secretly visited Japan for talks with Japanese officials aimed at improving bilateral relations damaged by an ongoing territorial row, a report said on Tuesday.

The talks involving a high-ranking official from the Chinese foreign ministry's Asian division were thought to have been held in early October, Japanese news agency Jiji Press reported from Beijing, quoting Chinese government sources.

A high-ranking official from the Japanese foreign ministry attended the meeting, the report said.

A Japanese foreign ministry official declined comment on the content of the report, saying: "Japan and China have been making various exchanges at various levels."

Tokyo-Beijing ties took a nosedive in September last year over the ownership of the Japan-controlled Senkaku islands, which China also claims and calls the Diaoyus.

The row over the islands in the East China Sea has led to warnings of a possible armed confrontation.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe managed a brief encounter and shook the hand of Chinese President Xi Jinping last week on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific summit in Indonesia. But China rejected a formal sit-down meeting between them due to the island dispute.

Mr Abe has not held formal talks with Chinese and South Korean leaders since taking office last December. Tokyo also has a dispute with Seoul over a group of South Korea-controlled isles.

The legacy of Japan's 20th century wartime aggression has also been souring Tokyo's ties with the neighbours.