Secret Sino-Japanese talks fail to make headway

TOKYO - Japan has acknowledged a high-level secret meeting with China this month aimed at improving bilateral relations strained by a territorial row, but no headway has been made, Kyodo News reported yesterday.

"It is true Japan and China have dialogues and communications at various levels," Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference when asked about news reports that a senior official of the Chinese Foreign Ministry's Asian Affairs Department secretly visited Japan early this month for talks with Japanese officials.

A high-ranking official from the Japanese Foreign Ministry attended the meeting, but Mr Suga declined to say what the two sides discussed.

During the trip, the Chinese official attempted to make progress towards summit talks between the two sides, Kyodo said, quoting sources close to Japan-China relations.

But the talks failed to make any headway, the sources added, saying it was uncertain whether the officials would meet again.

"At this moment, circumstances don't allow Japan and China room to approach one another for a summit. The two countries have a major gap in perception," Kyodo reported, quoting an unnamed source.

Tokyo-Beijing ties took a nosedive in September last year after Japan purchased three of five uninhabited islets - known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China - from private Japanese owners.

Since then, China has routinely sent patrol ships into waters near the chain in the East China Sea to challenge Japan's control.

During the meeting, China refuted Japan's position that the islets are an integral part of its territory and no territorial dispute exists, Japanese media reported, citing an unidentified Chinese official.

Tensions over the islets have prevented the two countries from holding a summit and other forms of high-level political exchange.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe managed a brief encounter and shook the hand of Chinese President Xi Jinping last week on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific summit in Indonesia.

But China rejected a formal sit-down meeting between them due to the island dispute.

Mr Abe has not held formal talks with Chinese and South Korean leaders since taking office last December.

Tokyo also has a dispute with Seoul over a group of South Korea-controlled isles.

The legacy of Japan's 20th century wartime aggression has also been souring Tokyo's ties with the neighbours.