TOKYO (AFP) - Japan will seek a bilateral summit between its prime minister and China's new leaders as early as May as part of efforts to defuse an ongoing diplomatic row, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said on Sunday.
Mr Kishida, speaking on public broadcaster NHK, said the meeting may be possible on the sidelines of the annual trilateral summit with China and South Korea, which usually takes place in May.
"As for a Japan-China summit meeting, we recognise the importance of communication between national leaders," Mr Kishida said.
"We have a three-way meeting with China and South Korea at around May every year... We will seek an opportunity of dialogue at such occasions," he said.
But Mr Kishida admitted the details of this year's trilateral summit, which is to be hosted by South Korea, have yet to be finalised.
Japan's hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has had no summit meetings with Chinese leaders since he took power in December amid a diplomatic row over disputed islands in the East China Sea - called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
A report said on Friday that Mr Abe will send his Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso to China next month in what would be the first high-level meeting of the Asian powers' new governments.
Japan's Sankei Shimbun daily said Mr Aso planned to meet with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, both of whom were confirmed in the top posts after a once-in-a-decade power transition this month.
Mr Abe has used a tough rhetoric over the spat with China.
Beijing has repeatedly sent ships and aircraft near the islands and both sides have scrambled fighter jets, though there have been no clashes.
However, Mr Abe has also offered peace overtures to China, repeatedly saying the Japan-China relationship was among Tokyo's most-important ties.