Japan calls for summit with China's Xi Jinping at Apec

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan called Friday for summit talks between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping during a regional meeting in Beijing later this year, as diplomatic tensions sour relations between the neighbours.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, Abe's right-hand man and the Japanese government's top spokesman, said it was "natural" for the two leaders to meet on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum, slated for November.

"At APEC, world leaders will convene. Having talks, I think, is a natural practice in the international community," he told the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan.

Tokyo and Beijing "have to share responsibility for peace and prosperity in the Asia Pacific and the international community", he added.

Suga's comments came as Tokyo and Beijing remain at loggerheads over ownership of islands in the East China Sea. Rising tensions have seen Chinese ships routinely sail into waters near the disputed archipelago while Japan has scrambled fighter jets to chase off intrusions near its airspace.

Despite a major trading relationship between the two countries, Abe and Xi, both strong nationalists, have not held a bilateral summit meeting since they both came to power in the last year and a half.

Tensions over the bitter memories of Japan's militarism in the first half of the 20th century have also weighed on relations.

Last week, China lashed out at Japan's move to loosen the bonds on its powerful military, casting it as a threat to Asian security, as Beijing beefs up its own forces and claims much of the South China Sea, causing friction with other regional nations including the Philippines and Vietnam.

On Friday, Suga also said Tokyo's "top priority" was to resolve a long-running spat with North Korea over the Cold War kidnapping of Japanese nationals.

Last week, Tokyo said it would revoke some of its unilateral sanctions on North Korea, after Pyongyang promised to investigate what happened to the dozens - or even hundreds - of people Japan says were snatched by North Korean spies to train their agents in language and customs during the 1970s and 1980s.

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