Japan, China ministers hold first meeting since war shrine trip

TOKYO (AFP) - The Japanese and Chinese trade ministers held talks Saturday in the first high-level meeting between the two countries since a visit by Japan's premier to a controversial war shrine sparked a furious diplomatic row in December.

Toshimitsu Motegi and his Chinese counterpart Gao Hucheng agreed to put political tensions to one side to boost bilateral economic ties, when they met on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum in Qingdao, Kyodo news agency reported.

It was the first Cabinet-level meeting since hawkish Japanese premier Shinzo Abe's visit to Yasukuni Shrine on Dec 26 provoked outrage in Beijing, inflaming diplomatic tensions already running high over a bitter territorial dispute.

China, along with other Asian nations, regards the shrine as a symbol of what it says is Japan's unwillingness to repent for its aggressive warring last century.

"Although Japan and China have difficult issues, we agreed that we should proceed with cooperation between the two countries based on our mutually beneficial and strategic relationship," Motegi was quoted by Japanese state broadcaster NHK as saying following the meeting in the Chinese port city.

The talks, which lasted about 20 minutes, were held in a "very good atmosphere", Motegi told reporters.

Relations between the Asian giants plunged to their lowest in years in September 2012 after Japan nationalised part of a South China Sea island chain known as the Senkakus in Japan and the Diaoyus in China.

Tokyo controls the islands, which are strategically sited and may harbour mineral resources, but Beijing claims sovereignty.

Paramilitary vessels from both sides have shadow-boxed in waters around the islands since then, with some observers warning of the risk of a limited military confrontation that could have disastrous regional implications.

However, in recent months the temperature has cooled and there have been signs that the two sides, who are economically interdependent, are moving towards a diplomatic detente.

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