TOKYO - Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday said his country and China are "inseparable" and urged Beijing to come to the table for "vital" summit talks as he sought to move on from comparisons he drew earlier with the eve of World War I.
Mr Abe said he would not budge on the sovereignty of the Tokyo-administered Senkaku islands, which Beijing calls Diaoyu and claims as its own.
He insisted, however, that the disagreement should not prevent a meeting between two closely- intertwined countries.
"Unfortunately, we have not been able to realise summit meetings with China. But my door for dialogue is always open," he told lawmakers at the opening of a parliamentary session.
"Instead of refusing to hold dialogue unless issues become resolved, we should hold talks because we have issues.
"Japan and China are inseparable. I will continue to make efforts to improve relations, while calling (on China) to return to the principles of a mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests."
His comments came after he penned a Chinese New Year message for Chinese-language magazines published in Japan, in which he wrote that it was "vital that dialogues are conducted between the two countries at a variety of levels, including at the summit level".
Earlier, his chief spokesman Yoshihide Suga faced questions from journalists for the second day running about a parallel the Premier had drawn on Wednesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos between present-day Asia and Europe on the eve of World War I.
Mr Abe was quoted by multiple media as saying that he saw a "similar situation" between current Japan-China relations and ties between Germany and Britain in 1914.
That was widely taken as a warning that war could be imperative between countries with strong economic ties
The Japanese-language transcript of Mr Abe's remarks did not contain the words "similar situation", although the Prime Minister had made a passing reference to Anglo-German ties in 1914.
Mr Abe "absolutely" did not mean he thought Japan was headed for war with China, Mr Suga told a regular briefing yesterday. He also cited Mr Abe's call for dialogue in a speech he separately delivered at Davos.
Regional tensions are proving a headache for the United States, which is wary of being drawn into any conflict that might erupt between treaty ally Japan and China, one of its biggest trading partners.
US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns flew to Tokyo yesterday after stops in Seoul and Beijing, as part of efforts to soothe relations.
Washington is seeking assurances from Mr Abe that he will not repeat his visit of last month to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine - a move China and South Korea consider as endorsement for militarism, the Wall Street Journal reported.
On Thursday, Admiral Samuel Locklear, the head of the US military's Pacific Command, also acknowledged his concern over the entrenched tensions between Japan and China.
The commander told a Pentagon briefing that the role of the US was to keep encouraging restraint, professionalism and "hope there will be diplomatic dialogue and a solution to this".
"I don't have the ability to pick up the phone and talk directly to a PLA (People's Liberation Army) general, or PLA Navy admiral, at the time of a crisis. And we need to work on that," he said.
He did say Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel and General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did have capabilities to reach out in a crisis and "we would hope it would work".
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG