Japan gives letter to China's Xi in island dispute
By Christopher Bodeen ,APBEIJING -- A senior envoy handed China's leader a cordial letter from Japan's prime minister Friday in the highest-level contact between the sides since tensions spiked in September over an island dispute, though the meeting yielded little beyond commitments to hold further contact.
January 26, 2013, 12:02 am TWN
The letter from Shinzo Abe to Xi Jinping, as seen by The Associated Press, did not contain any substantial overtures, but it sent wishes of good health, spoke of the two countries' “shared responsibility for peace and prosperity” in the region and said Friday's meeting was a “valuable opportunity to share views.”
The meeting between Xi and the envoy, senior lawmaker Natsuo Yamaguchi, appeared to dial back some of the intensity of the dispute, which has raised concerns over a possible armed conflict.
Xi told Yamaguchi that China attached “great importance” to his visit, held in Beijing's Great Hall of the People following four months of rising friction that have included violent protests in China and the scrambling of fighter jets by both countries.
“Mr. Yamaguchi visits China at a period in which China-Japan relations face a special situation,” Xi said, before reporters were asked to leave the meeting.
Speaking to reporters afterward, Yamaguchi said both men emphasized the need for discussion and calm. He said the two men also discussed a future high-level meeting in preparation for a possible summit between Xi and Abe, but gave no indication when that might happen.
Yamaguchi is the leader of New Komeito, the junior party in Abe's ruling coalition, but not a member of the government. He arrived on Tuesday and met earlier with lower-ranking officials including Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and the head of the ruling Communist Party's international department.
Tensions soared after Japan's government bought the uninhabited islands, known in Chinese as Diaoyu and Japanese as Senkaku, from their private Japanese owners in September.
Both sides have since called for dialogue to avoid an armed confrontation, though Japan has rejected China's demand that it acknowledge a sovereignty dispute. Tokyo says is clear the islands belong to Japan.
The islands are surrounded by rich fishing grounds and a potential wealth of gas, oil and other undersea resources. For Chinese, the dispute has reawakened bitter memories of Japan's conquest of Chinese territory beginning in 1895 and its brutal World War II occupation of much of the country, for which many Chinese feel Japan has yet to truly apologize.