Japan, China explore cooperation against disasters

SENDAI (AFP) - The Japanese and Chinese ministers in charge of disaster management agreed Sunday to explore ways to improve cooperation, as the Asian giants take slow steps towards building better ties.

Japan's disaster management minister Eriko Yamatani and China's Civil Affairs Minister Li Liguo - the first Chinese minister to visit Japan for three years - also voiced hope of inviting South Korea to three-way ministerial talks on disaster management this year.

They met on the sidelines of a UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in the northern Japanese city of Sendai, which was hit hard by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and killer tsunami in March 2011.

Yamatani thanked China for its help after the natural disaster, which also triggered the ongoing Fukushima nuclear crisis.

In response, Li said he was "highly interested in Japan's disaster prevention methods", according to national broadcaster NHK.

Yamatani told Li she wanted to hold a trilateral meeting of disaster management ministers from Japan, China and South Korea later this year.

Li said he might be unable to attend the meeting, but promised China would "send an appropriate individual", the Nikkei business daily reported.

The two ministers did not discuss the overall state of relations between their countries, local media said.

Relations have cooled sharply in recent years due to an emotional territorial dispute and animosity stemming from Japan's aggression in Asia before and during World War II.

Japan, China and South Korea also aim to hold a trilateral meeting of foreign ministers, and there are hopes any such meeting could lead to a three-way leadership summit later in the year between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Park Geun Hye.

Abe and Xi met in November, but the Japanese premier has yet to hold an official bilateral meeting with Park.