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Top Japan, China diplomats meet on disputed isles

TOKYO -- Senior Japanese and Chinese diplomats have met to discuss a dispute over East China Sea islets that both countries claim, the Japanese government said on Wednesday, underscoring willingness to talk despite a sharp deterioration in ties.

Sino-Japanese relations took a dive after the Japanese government bought the islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, from a private Japanese owner in September, triggering violent protests and calls for boycotts of Japanese products across China.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura confirmed talks between Tokyo and Beijing after domestic media reported that Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Chikao Kawai secretly met senior Chinese officials, probably including his counterpart, Zhang Zhijun, in Shanghai last week to discuss the dispute.

β€œI am aware of the reports. That was part of the communications going on between Japan and China in various forms and at various levels,” Fujimura told a regular news conference without giving details.

β€œIt just shows we are in constant contact at many levels.”

Following Japan's purchase of the islands, China sent fishery patrol and marine surveillance vessels to waters near the islets, raising concern that confrontation with Japanese patrol ships could escalate into a broader conflict.

The row with China, the world's second-largest economy and Japan's largest trading partner, has prompted the Bank of Japan to cut its outlook for economies in the region.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has described Japan's security environment as tougher than ever.

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